Newbie Word of the Day: Cardboard Characters (also known as Two-dimensional Characters, Flat Characters) – Characters that don’t come alive or aren’t believable to readers.
It doesn’t matter if your main character is a teenaged centaur-like breed of half-man, half-moose (let’s call him Moe) that survives by eating plankton on the bottom of Lake Yamu (don’t even think of swiping it. It’s my next WIP). Our stories need more than just a great plot. We need great characters. So how do we newbies keep ‘ol Moe and his friends from being tossed into the biodegradable bin of cardboard characters? We give him depth, layers, and make him relateable… even if he’s a moose hybrid.
In How I Write, Janet Evanovich defines a well-developed character as multidimensional, with quirks and flaws, dreams, motivations, and values.
Wait a minute…you mean they’re just like us?! I’ll be danged.
Even young adult characters have things that motivate them; goals they want to achieve. If anything, I believe writing YA characters requires even more. It’s during this crucial time that they’re deciding just who they want to be and where they fit in. Contrary to some portrayals, not all teenagers sit around in brooding moods, making snarky remarks. They’re full of hope, but lack assuredness. They believe in their own tomorrow, but aren’t quite sure how to go about achieving it. To me, they’re very complex, fascinating characters.
Now, we know what we need, but how do we go about creating all these facets of a personality? I’ve read several discussions dealing with character development on forums. Some writers have ‘conversations’ with their characters in their heads, where they discuss all these details over imaginary coffee. Besides a rather embarrassing incident that occurred at the dentist’s office after I’d been administered too much laughing gas, I’ve never had conversations in my head with make-believe people. Other writers simply sit down and dole out the traits to each character in a very business-like manner. I’m just not left-brained enough for that.
I opt for the stalking method. I hide behind corners and watch. I take notes. I observe their body language and dialogue. I put the character into certain situations just to see how they react. No matter which method you chose, it’s your job to breathe life into these characters for the reader so that they get to know them as well as you do.
Finally, the fun part: you have to do this for each character. And each character has to stay true to their personality throughout the entire novel. Talk about feeling like you have multiple personalities! But we have to earn the readers’ trust and the second one of our beloved characters acts…well, out of character, we lose that.
“Walk a mile in their shoes”… Hope our characters have some good sneakers, because we’ll be wearing out the soles of them as we journey through writing our WIPs…
What process do you use for creating your characters? How do you bring them to life?