Friday, August 31, 2018

9 Ways to Keep Your Character From Being Boring

Your character bores me.

As a writer, the thought of hearing that sentence probably makes you want to fling yourself into the fires of Mount Doom.

Yet, oddly, boring characters are still fairly common. You'd think writers would be so afraid of this phrase that they'd learn to create attention-holding characters, but apparently not? It's a problem, people.

Don't be part of the problem. Here's a post alllll about how to make your characters interesting and non-snooze-inducing.

Take notes.

9 Ways to Keep Your Character From Being Boring

1. Give them fears and flaws. Seriously. All the flaws. There is nobody on earth who does not possess dozens upon dozens of flaws, so withholding this from your characters will make them unbelievable and incredibly flat. Do you want a plastic pancake character? Okay. Then make them perfect. Want a luscious cinnamon roll character? Give them flaws. I've created a whole list of flaws for you to choose from. Also, another helpful tip: Your characters fears will often be directly connected to their flaws. For instance: Ron Weasley is afraid of being forgotten and pushed aside, yet one of his biggest flaws is that he's so jealous that he pushes his own friends away.

2. Make sure their personality is contradictory. A lot of writers don't like doing this, but it is 100% realistic to real-life and also 1000% fascinating. Your characters should hold inconsistent ideas both about themselves and the world in general. Legolas and Gimli are a great example of this. At first, Legolas doesn't like Gimli because Gimli is biased against elves...yet Legolas himself is prejudice against dwarves and doesn't seem to see that that's problematic (and vice versa for Gimli). Another cool thing to keep in mind: These inconsistencies generally feed well into your character's fears and flaws.

3. Give them beliefs. What does this character stand for? If the answer is, "Ummmm....I don't know." Then I have another question for you: If they stand for nothing, then what will they fall for? A rhetorical question, really. The answer is: They won't even have a chance to fall. They will be ripped down by your readers and trampled upon for being one-dimensional and difficult to relate to. Yeah. Not good. Give your character things that they very strongly believe in...or, if they don't have any particularly strong beliefs, give them things they at least kind of maybe believe in. After all, what's supremely important is....

4. Give them a reason for having their beliefs. Most people don't often spend a lot of time thinking about this because most people are shallow and sad, but: Our beliefs come from somewhere. They may have been purposefully taught or learned, or they may have been absorbed unintentionally. Some beliefs may have sprung from an innate sense of right and wrong, but were later twisted by various experiences. Explore what makes your character think they way they think. Perhaps by repeatedly asking:
Ross from Friends gif: "Why, why would you do that?"
Yes, that includes creating backstory for your character. No, you don't have to explicitly state the backstory, but you do need to have it fleshed out to the point that you understand where the character is coming from.

5. Don't forget the importance of interiority. What's interiority? you ask? *puts on massive writer nerd hat* *pulls out podium* *points at power point* Interiority is a character's inner thoughts and emotions. While many books focus on what happens around the character, it is equally important to showcase what is happen inside of the character. Try telling events and emotions as your character sees and processes them. Yeah, I said telling. I know that you've probably been told "show, don't tell," which is a decent guideline, but not always applicable. Interiority is a good type of telling that is very important when it comes to helping your readers connect with your character. Not only is this an excellent way to show off your character's excellent voice, but it is also a good way to help your readers connect with your character and their goals. Still not sure what interiority is? I'll give you an example from my own story Skies of Dripping Gold (shameless plug):

He stepped out the door, cars honking at him. This time, he didn't curse. Never in front of Lilly. As far as he was concerned, there were only two all-mportant laws on earth: 
  1. Don't murder people.
  2. Never swear in front of Lilly. 
This second rule he had adopted the day he'd seen her horrified look when he let loose at a bicyclist. That's all it took. If Lilly one day told him to stop breathing, Gabriel supposed he would start holding his breath on the spot.

See how the main character is talking about what's happening (not cursing) and why (he doesn't want to offend his sister)? He tells this in his own voice and in his own way. That's interiority.

6. Don't forget that your character needs goals. Why are they doing what they are doing? What's in it for them? Nobody does anything without motives (ulterior or otherwise). Give your character a goal. In fact, give them more than one.

7. Connect all of this to the plot. Their flaws, their backstory, their motives, their beliefs. It should all in some way connect to the plot. After all, your main character is your main character because they are important to the plot/story. And your secondary character is secondary because they have a necessary role in the story. Now, no, not every. single. thing. about your character needs to connect to the story, but pretty much all of the major points should. Everything you put into your story needs to be intentional. Character personality and backstory is no different.

8. Use other characters as foils. Have you ever noticed that some people are more interesting or lively when they are around other specific people? Yeah. Characters are like that, too. You should be creating your characters so that they play well together: They should bring out each other's motives, flaws, backstory, and overall personality. For instance: Alfred is an excellent foil to Batman. Like Bruce, he is very disciplined and has a strong personality, and this brings those personality traits out in both of them. However, he is also very even-keeled and is not one to be cowed by Bruce, so he is thus able to keep him in line.
Alfred from Batman Animated gif: You're bleeding all over my nice clean floor.
Basically, all of your characters need an Alfred: Somebody who compliments and/or highlights some of their personality traits while providing a good character dynamic.

9. Pay attention to information flow. Pacing is very important to character development, but this is often overlooked. Think about it: If somebody tells you alllllll about themselves (their backstory, their flaws, their goals, etc) when you first meet them, not only will you be bored out of your mind as they talk, but you'll also be less interested in them when you next meet. After all, you know all there is to know about them. Same goes for characters. Give out bits and pieces of their flaws, motivations, emotions when it feels appropriate, but don't lay it all out at once.

Who are some of your favorite, attention-grabbing characters? Who are some of your favorite boring characters that you like to make fun of?

Related articles:
5 Tips for Creating Complex Characters
24 Personality Flaws to Give Depth to Your Characters

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  1. Great, helpful post. It was interesting, and showed ways to make sure my characters are, too. And I loved the GIFs you used in this post! And was that perhaps a Hamilton reference I spotted in #3?😄

    1. Yay! Glad you enjoyed it! And yes, that was a Hamilton reference. =D So pleased that you caught it.

  2. Ooh, this was very helpful for me! I feel a little more confident about my current WIP's cast now.

  3. This one is my favorite - "Give them a reason for having their beliefs". So often they don't have a reason)

  4. I'll have to agree to disagree on "reason to believe" something... so many cases in which I've seen a person inherit a belief if not their whole worldview from the one that brought them up - this doesn't only impact religion, although I can see from myself that the atheist engineer's daughter wasn't likely to become religious in the first place, and became a primary agnostic atheist (I believe in cogito ergo sum, the base idea from Descartes' philosophy, that a person can only truly be certain that they think/doubt, a self-proving statement, and I personally extend from that that the "god", if it exists, can not be perceived or even accurately imagined by humans, as it'd be like a square trying to ascertain the existence of cube, when it only has the tools to measure area, and, thus, is fundamentally incapable of perceiving volume. But by creating a world ourselves, by writing, by imagining, it is possible to sort of "reverse engineer" god in that the creator is god to what they create, the square is to the line what the cube is to the square.), and secondary a virulent misotheist (god-hater. It might have a purpose with making me suffer through life, it might have blue and orange morality, but if it exists, it can exist knowing I have no other feelings for it except that I hate it with a passion for all the suffering in this world). Then again, there is an argument to be made for childhood making people what they are, as much as I still fight the demons from mine.


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