Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Create Ordinary Characters by Making Them Dramatic

As I revise my novel, one of the things I'm noticing is that I'm often amplifying character reactions and behaviour beyond what they'd be in ordinary life. It's not that I'm trying to create an extraordinary character. (Though I suppose all authors want to think of their characters that way on some level, or else why would we bother writing about them?) But using words to shape personality involves making judgments about what is important for the reader to know, see or feel and then writing to emphasize those elements.

To bring out a character's personality, I think it's important to sometimes make their reactions a little over-the top. Give them a dramatic flair. In the same way that writers pile on more and more impossible obstacles for a character to struggle through, the actions and reactions of the character need to be big and bold to show that they are up to the challenge. Being bold doesn't mean that characters can't be quaking in their boots or feeling timid in the face of danger, but their fears or lack of confidence need to be big enough, noticeable enough, for it to stand out to the reader.

Some tips for making characters more dramatic:

1. Create a character that is conflicted to begin with. If there is something about the character that sets up an inner conflict, it can create empathy even before the story gets started. A typical example in a middle grade or YA novel might be having a character with a parent that recently died or moved out. Or some type of disability. Even if that's not what the story is going to be about, there are underlying emotional issues to resolve and that creates more drama.

2. Have secondary or minor characters react to what the main character is doing. This draws attention to the reaction or behaviour for the reader. If the other characters think it's important, then it must be important.

3. Choose the reaction with the most impact and let it stand on its own. Write all about how the character acts, thinks and feels when reacting to an event in the story. But then go back and choose the most compelling way to describe it and cut the rest. Over-explanations take away from the dramatic impact. But watch out for the opposite problem too, where the reader doesn't know enough about what the character is thinking and feeling to care. It's all about balance.

How do you make your characters more dramatic?


  1. Giving characters conflict right from the beginning is so important. We all have issues that we're dealing with in the moment, and characters should be no different. I've read novels where everything started off wonderful for the character, and that kills any sense of tension. Those novels always fall flat for me.

  2. Great post! I enjoy creating character who are wounded before the story starts. Those are the kind I love to read about. From the beginning, you can't help but cheer for them.

  3. thanks for this post! i'm not sure why, but i tend to create characters who don't want what is best for them. so from the beginning, they have a desire, but it changes by the end of the story.

  4. Good tips! The characters I create seem to want to fix things for other people--and they usually end up in a fix themselves while doing so. I do like to give my MCs quirks; things that make them believable, human, and unique.

  5. All great advice. I think it's important to have habitual reactions, too. Like a nervous tick or an irritating laugh. It shows individuality while being undramatic because you can write it off as characterization.

  6. I think it's great to have a character with an issue that's real--if they're introverted, it should be for a good reason that maybe we learn as the story unfolds.

  7. I always learn something great when I come here! Don't know if I tell you often enough how much I appreciate that! :-) Dig the new photo of you, too.

    1. Thanks, Car! There's a new one on my About Me page too.

  8. These are all great points. The character needs to be conflicted when the story opens, quite apart from what is about to happen to her to make it all worse! And you're so right about the balance between too many and too few details.


I love to hear your responses and thoughts! Your comments will appear after moderation (I've decided to enable moderation due to excessive spam).