When we read, we may notice that some characters lack personality. They’re boring. If the plot is interesting, we may keep reading, but we aren’t invested in the one dimensional characters. They lack that special something that would bring them to life in our imaginations.
This is easy to remedy in our writing. Think about real people. Do you know someone that constantly puts on lip balm? Is there someone else in your life who is never without a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup? How about a friend who is always chewing gum? Another that hands out tracts everywhere she goes? Think about television personalities. If you watch NCIS, you know when to expect the Gibbs slap. In The Big Bang Theory you know how many times Sheldon will knock on the door. Even real life television personalities have traits you probably recognize. If you ever watched a Dr. Ruckman chalk talk, you may be able to predict when he’ll say “Amen, amen, amen.” These are little personality traits that help our readers connect with our characters.
Once you’ve assigned your characters some quirky behaviors, there’s still work to do. What is their motivation? There’s nothing more boring than a stereotypical villain without a believable motivation. I recently read a book I didn’t love, to me the story line was too obvious, but I believed the motivations. It was one of the redeeming qualities that kept me reading. The mother-in-law was motivated by love for her son and jealousy and the husband was motivated by lust and greed. Simple and easy to understand motivations that I believed would bring someone to act so horrendously. Motivation can be as simple as that or far more complex and psychologically powerful. The point is to make the motivation believable. We don’t necessarily have to spell it out for our readers, they will get it, as long as we are writing with a clear motivation in mind.
Lastly, examine each character’s dialogue. Do they have their own voice? Do they all sound the same? Make sure to add something unique to each personality. Maybe a phrase or word they use. Do they speak formally? Are they laid back and relaxed? Do they have a special dialect? Do they joke around? Are they always serious? If we give our main characters their own voice, they will become real to our readers.
Naturally, it’s easiest to consider these things before our writing begins, but we can always go through and add in personality after the book is written. It’s just a matter of using the search feature to search for scenes involving a particular character and adding in those quirks and making a few changes to dialogue. It would be much harder to add in motivation after the fact, but it can be done.
What other methods do you find helpful for bringing characters to life? Share your thoughts in the comments.