Characters Are Like Artichokes
We've got family visiting this week, so I want to post this Monday night. I'll be in and out, so if you have questions or want to discuss something, feel free to post it in the comments. I'll get to them all, but maybe not immediately.
Characters have to have layers. Nobody likes cardboard characters.
In writing, characters should be like artichokes. You don't get to the heart until you do some serious work peeling away the layers. What the reader sees, as well as what other characters see when they meet a character, be it protagonist or a secondary character, will be superficial at first. Perhaps the character was too good to be true, and as time goes on, faults are revealed. Or maybe it's the other way around. An unlikeable character turns out to be golden inside.
We spend a lot of time getting to know our characters so we'll know how they'll respond in any situation we subject them to. Or will we?
It's just as important to know how your character will behave when confronted with the unexpected. And, as authors, we need to keep the unexpected happening. After all, "Only Trouble is Interesting."
What happens when your hero finds himself in a different environment? How will he cope? Does he grumble and complain? Does he make the best of it? Go into hiding until it passes?
Not long ago, Florida experienced the longest, coldest winter in years. Residents found themselves in unexpected situations, and many were totally unprepared, both for higher heating bills and insufficient wardrobes.
Of course, I'm referring to a lot more than the weather, or other external influences. Showing a character shivering with cold isn't the point. It's what he's thinking, and what he's doing. Has your character ever been in a similar situation? Does he have past experiences to draw on?
Is your character someone who likes routine? If he walks into a favorite bar, does the bartender know what he's going to order? At our Sunday hangout, the staff likes to get to know its customers and what they order. We throw a monkey wrench into our bartender's evening because we rarely order the same drink two weeks runningóbut when we do, that throws him.
The best characters are the ones who have to cope with NOT having their creature comforts, or their professional tools. In a recent read, the hero was a chef renowned for his veal and lamb, and he prepared an exquisite meal to impress the heroine. Who, he discovered too late, was a strict vegetarian.
Or the hero who's a whiz with technology: What happens when he doesn't have any of his fancy equipment? Does he give up? Go into MacGyver mode and create a high-tech gizmo? Or utilize a totally new way to solve his problem, not relying on technology at all?
In JD Robb's "In Death" series, Roarke traveled to rural Ireland and had to deal with meeting a family he was unaware he had. This was a far cry from his normal "Have it all, and if he doesn't have it, he owns the factory that makes it" environment. His money and business status were useless there, and the emotions that he normally suppressed on the job were bared for all to see.
Maybe it's simple frustration. How does your character deal the little frustrations? What about the big ones? What does he do when he gets a flat? On a winding, muddy, mountain road? In the rain? With no cell phone coverage?
What about changing thinking patterns? Can he (to beat a dead clichť) get 'out of the box'? Will he give up an alpha position if circumstances warrant it?
Odds are you don't know this until you get well into the book. At least I don't. I've heard there are writers who develop their characters to that degree before they put fingers to keyboard. And they plot, too!
Either way, peeling away those character layers makes for three-dimensional charactersócharacters your readers will care about.