So, now we talk about ways to add dimension to your character. The book Creating Fiction by Julie Checkoway floats the iceberg theory, which is actually a pretty apt description of what you want to create with your character. The theory is that each character is an iceberg. There’s a little bit that the reader sees on the surface, but the bulk of the character lies beneath the surface, and what the author has to do is to make the reader believe in all that stuff that is sitting under water and out of sight.
In order to do this, use dialog, thoughts, and actions to show the depth. Also, as an author, it’s important for you to carry all this info in your head.
Some writers will do interviews, and character sheets. When I get to a point where I don’t think my character is fully realized, I pull out my well-thumbed copy of The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman. The book has two great chapters on the life of your character. It asks questions about religion and family history. The way the character dresses, the way the character handles money, etc. If I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for in my character (i.e. I don’t know what’s missing), I run through the questions and write it all out. Somewhere during the process, I get 2-3 aha moments where I see great opportunities for the story.
It’s really important to not shortchange the process, and find whatever process will work best for you. If you feel like your character is flat, or if you don’t know them, chances are, you don’t.
So, now you’ve done some work, but you feel the character is boring. What to do? Use a little bit of exaggeration to make them interesting. Pick one trait or habit they have, and play it up. I’ve written a heroine who is a card-shark and loves to gamble. I’ve written a heroine who was uber-competitive and sneezed every time she lost. I’ve written a hero who was obsessed with dragons and dragon lore. Readers are looking for characters who feel real, but who are also larger than life.
When creating a character, don’t be afraid to go against type. Twist a character, twist a stereotype. Say you’re writing a librarian. What’s the librarian stereotype? Quiet, bossy, wears glasses, and usually has a stash of well-hidden sexy underwear. So what to do? Write a librarian who is loud and brash. There’s a great secondary librarian character in the movie foul play. I forget her name (Stella?) but she’s loud and very New York and carries brass knuckles and mace in her pace.
So, here’s the exercise, think of a stereotype and tell me how you would twist it?