Monday, June 20, 2011

Solving Character Flatness

Hello, all! First of all, I'm very sorry for not posting anything in so long. I've been quite busy.

I did, however, type this up for someone on OYAN who was asking for help in a character lounge. Enjoy, and please forgive me for any lack of continuity.

In my experience, putting a character inside a lounge doesn't do much for getting rid of "flatness." If anything, it really just gives you a chance to listen to how the character speaks, and shows you how he reacts in different situations. This is all well-and-good, and I'm not putting down character lounges. They do have their purposes.

It looks like what you need to do is flesh out the character in the story itself. I received this bit of critique from someone:

Another way to flesh this out is to help us understand what your characters are feeling. Don't come straight out and say. She was sad. Explain how sadness feels to her. Is there a yanking in her gut? A pull on her heart? 
These elements will help you bring your characters alive. You did a good job with describing WHO the man was--the one who helped her in the beginning. You used simple things like leaning his elbows on his knees and raising an eyebrow. See little things like that help MAKE a character real.

From what I gathered of this advice, it's not the BIG things that make a character real. It's the little things--constantly drumming his fingers on a tabletop, biting his nails when he's nervous, scratching the back of his neck, smirking, sneering. It's all these things. I'll give a few examples of some of my favorite characters of all time and what small things made their personality and character real to me.

The Doctor: Yes, I know, the Doctor is a character from a TV show. But he's still endearing. I'll give examples of the 10th Doctor and the 11th Doctor since they really are different people.

10th Doctor: He rubs the back of his neck when he's exasperated, charms people with just a grin, has a habit of talking a million miles an hour about everything. He runs a hand through his hair, starts half his sentences with the word "Well", and enjoys being "John Smith, Health and Safety!"

11th Doctor: He defends his clothing choices with gusto and has a flair for dramatics. I don't remember many little things, mostly because I've been watching the 9th Doctor recently, but I love the way he always says, "Bowties. Are. Cool." He's also completely oblivious to any innuendoes from other characters, which is both characterizing and hilarious.

Severus Snape (big jump here! XD): He sneers. He leers. He rolls his eyes, his cloak billows, he snarks, he's sarcastic, he unfailingly favors his Slytherins, he glowers. He drawls (goodness, the only British accent I have EVER heard to drawl!), and scowls.

For me, the little things about these characters drew me to them--NOT their past! When you meet each of these characters (well, Snape, really, you know all about the Doctor), you don't know their past. You don't know what influences them. You do, however, see the facade they put up and all their little actions throughout the story. I LURVE SNAPE. *glomps Snape*

Okay, now you know of my undying love for the most hated character in Harry Potter fiction. *cough* Well.


Another person also said to me,

Chapter was nice as far as setting up your plot. Your charctets? Not so much. Give them depth, add more descriptions, tell us more about them. This is the first time we meet them, make the reader fall in love! 
...(from someone else) 
 The plot is strong and the characters seem real. My only suggestion is maybe try to add a few more faults/habits to the characters. Not only will it help stir up the plot even more but it can help make the characters memorable.

The first bit of advice is much the same as what I said before. Add small things. Little things. Be descriptive! Don't go around putting out purple prose just for the sake of it (or at all, really), but DO describe the character and how he's feeling.

The second bit of advice is something I struggle with. I'm so used to seeing the big picture of things that I can't focus very well on the smaller parts of a story. Characters need habits and faults. Give your character a nasty habit of snapping "Rubbish!" every time his mother is mentioned. Make him say "BALDERASH!" every time he stubs his toe. Have him swim in the creek next to his house every full moon wearing a purple-spotted body suit, without failure. These little things build character.

I hope you found this information helpful! Thanks for reading.

~Mercia Dragonslayer