Monday, Jan 26, 2009

Creating Depth in Your Characters

Most of you know that fiction writing is my first writing love. The more I write, read, and study fiction, the more I am drawn into its beauty and purpose. 

Characters are at the core of great fiction writing. When we’ve closed the book, we most remember the characters. Years later, we may have forgotten the plot, but we remember the characters. 

What do the greatest characters have in common that causes them to be so lastingly memorable? I believe that one of the chief things they have in common is both an internal and an external story. 

Much popular fiction paints a main character who goes from point A to point B in virtually a straight line. Oh, there may be a few zigzags here and there along the path, but the path from beginning to end is pretty straightforward. The main character has a goal and she reaches it. She may want to get the guy, and she does. She has only an external story. Such a main character is usually flat and predictable. 

But the stories whose characters draw you in, mesmerize you, keep you reading are those stories where the main character has not only a well-defined outward goal, but also a not-so-well-defined (at least to the character) internal goal. It is this internal goal – this inner need to grow in some way, to find meaning, to discover what one is made of – that creates intimate reader identification and that makes the character rich and deep. 

When you plot your next story, choose both an external goal and an internal goal. Then, to make your fiction really memorable, intertwine the two goals and resolve them both. Your fiction will be the better for it.

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4 thoughts on “Creating Depth in Your Characters

  1. Hi Mary Ann –

    Thanks for explaining indepth the external goal/internal conflict scenario.

    If we examine our own paths through life, it’s clear nothing is ever so predictable. There’s struggle, sorting through the many options, recognizing what options are available, etc.

    Thanks for waking up my brain cells this AM. 🙂


    January 26, 2009 at 8:56 AM

  2. My mentor calls this “need.” In the opening of the book, what is the hero’s OBVIOUS need? But you, as the author, must also know his HIDDEN need. And this need must be attained by the end of the book.

    She puts us through a series of questions and it’s amazing what you can learn from your characters simply by “talking” to them!

    It’s hard to start a new novel, as I’m finding out, because we dont’ know the characters yet. We must get to know them like we know a dear friend. That will give them depth.

    January 29, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    • Dear Pam,

      I love the way you expressed the same thing as OBVIOUS need and HIDDEN need. Exactly! That’s what I meant by EXTERNAL story and INTERNAL story. I like using the idea of need and will keep that in mind as I write.

      Thank you for your post.



      January 30, 2009 at 11:28 AM