You think you know your main character so well. You know where she came from, where he went to school, the name of her chosen dagger, and why he never goes to bed before three in the morning. But if you think you know everything there is to know about your character, think again. To write really juicy, complex characters you’ve got to get in there and peel back their masks.
Do you really know what motivates your characters? I mean beyond trying to solve the mystery of the plot you’ve woven around them, or being reunited with the person you’ve torn from them in the interest of suspense. What is the constant energetic force in your character’s life that drives him or her to do the things they do?
How does a great writer get inside a character’s head? What’s the secret to peeling back the layers to reveal the emotionally textured motive beneath?
I recently struggled with this while reading a long, epic poem by Goethe. There were so many characters, and each character had so much going on, that it was hard for me to keep track of all of them. It was even more difficult to see the bigger picture of how they all fit together.
Out of the three basic elements of a story—character, plot, and setting—setting often turns into the neglected stepchild sweeping up ashes in the corner. And for good reason. It can get tedious to describe an imaginary place that you can see clearly in your mind’s eye, but the reader can’t. On the other hand, it’s sometimes tempting to use too much detail, bogging the reader down with unnecessary words that only add confusion to the story.
Good characters can make or break your novel.
An audience will follow an extraordinary, kick-ass character through any number of complex scenes, plot twists, and controversial decisions. As a writer, you already know that the best characters are layered, multi-dimensional beings who can think for themselves. You know that you have to go inside each character to get something awesome happening on the outside.