Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fixing Shallow Characters

Flatest character ever. Ba-dum, dish
One of my beta readers told me all my side characters were bland. They also said I developed the relationships between Tuccia, my MC, and each Vestal Virgin, but I only developed some of their relationships with each other. This shocked me. How could that be possible? I loved all my characters.

I looked over the book and realized I paid too much attention to my main character’s development to worry about the others'. I also paid a lot of attention to the history and the plot.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how necessary it is to develop all characters. People shouldn’t be there to just fill up space; they leave holes in the book. Nevertheless, I was afraid if I gave individual attention to every personality and every relationship, it would weigh the book down.

I remembered something my dad said: an author should know the answer to every question, even if the answers are never given to the readers. It helps keep everything in the book congruent, and the author will let slip enough clues to give readers the answers, and it will create the feeling that there is a world beyond what they see in the book.

I noticed one of the Vestal Virgins was much more developed than the others because she had a back story, but I didn’t use it in the book. Because I understood her, I knew what she would say and how she would react to every situation. She made sense to me, and she made sense to my readers.

I don’t have to put in a scene or even a whole paragraph that describes the relationships between the characters. What matters is that I know them, and what I know will be communicated to the readers whether I mean it to or not.

I did a little exercise where I wrote one sentence about how each character feels about the others. It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I did it.

There’s an example of two characters below.

Blog Post of the Day: Fleshing Out Flat Characters

Sossia: stuck up, feels entitled to certain things, graceful, conceited, a little selfish. Complains, is impatient towards children.
Sossia + Physical Appearance: Beautiful, dark, tragic features.
Sossia + Everyone: Because she’s conceited, she treats everyone pretty much the same and looks at them only in terms of how they affect her.
Sossia + the Goddess Vesta: believes in her, is dedicated to her, but she isn’t self-sacrificing
Sossia + Aemilia: respects her.
Sossia + Calpurnia: Thinks she’s amusing. Doesn’t take her seriously.
Sossia + Pinaria: Don’t have anything in common.
Sossia + Minucia: They like each other, mostly because Minucia never gets in Sossia’s way and Minucia has no reason to dislike her.
Sossia + Tuccia: Not much patience
Sossia + Postumia: Not much patience
Sossia + Marcia: Her discupula exhausts her. This is the first time she’s had to think of someone besides herself.

Pinaria: Sweet as sugar
Pinaria + Physical Appearance: You can tell she's middle-aged because of a few wrinkles, but her face looks innocent and child-like and she has a happy glow about her.
Pinaria + Everyone: She is a kind, nurturing person who loves children. Is impatient with people who don’t have the same love for others that she has
Pinaria + the Goddess Vesta: Loves her and her role as a Vestal Virgin
Pinaria + Aemilia: Respect one another. It’s shocking when they fight.
Pinaria + Calpurnia: Thinks she’s disagreeable and avoids her
Pinaria + Sossia: Don’t have anything in common
Pinaria + Minucia: Helped raise her, has a motherly love towards her and helps her through her challenges
Pinaria + Tuccia: Loves her more than anyone else in the world.


  1. I went over to the post you mentioned, from March 2. You are absolutely correct--and I had to think about my WIP, and the characters in play. Thanks!

  2. When I used to do theater, a wise director told me to make up a secret about my character, "it will give him depth." I've carried that over into my writing. I give my characters secrets.

    Nice blog, see you at Nathan's

  3. I love how you did just one sentence about how each character feels about the others-- I'll have to try that.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said YOU need to know everything, but the reader doesn't. If you know all your characters, that knowledge comes out in everything they say, and in their interactions with each other without you having to explain it all. Great post!

  4. Great advice! I have found this helps me flesh out my side characters as well. Best of luck in writing :)


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