It certainly has been a while. You want a few reasons? Firstly, some old friends from Beijing came here and had a blast for about a week. Secondly, the computer I use decided to take fifteen minutes to process anything, so opening my web browser to get to WordPress is a tad difficult, let alone using the VPN. The problem with this is that all of Bayonet is on that computer, so I haven’t been writing on that either. So either we get the computer fixed or it takes five hours to move my book to the other computer, the one I’m using now.
So, onto the subject of this blog post: character depth.
I never was great with character depth in my stories. My protagonists were often a sheet white piece of paper with a physical description only. Blonde hair, blue eyes, medium height, small feet and a little on the skinny side. That’s it. But the largest way to dive into character depth is getting to know your characters in ways more than their appearance.
A question that might be asked is, “Why is character depth so important? Isn’t plot the biggest aspect of a book?” Well the way I see it, characters are plot. If Jimmy wasn’t so short, he might have been able to reach the cookies without the ladder. If characters are plot, the only way to have a deeper plot is to have a deeper character.
Character depth also hooks the reader in. A lot of people say it helps you relate with the main characters (MCs). Well, I can’t always see how that works excactly. We can’t always relate with girls if we’re a boy or boys if we’re a girl. We can’t relate to a knight if we’re an economist. But we do see patterns that are in life, not just in ours but others’, and we recognize them when we see them. Just because we’re a boy doesn’t mean we don’t know that girls sometimes feel insecure. Just because we’re a girl doesn’t mean we don’t know that some boys like to skateboard. Even if the relationships between the book and reality aren’t direct toward us, we still feel drawn in to the book when we see them, even if they’re more direct towardother people.
Character depth can be defined in several different ways. A few ways are quirks, attitude, and backstories. These are the ones I’ll focus on here.
Firstly quirks. Now, quirks aren’t always the pimple at the tip of his nose or eyes a little too small for her own good. No, they’re what makes a character pop. Stand out. Think of a person you know. It could be yourself. What’s that tiny bit of abnormalcy that makes them them. About myself, by forehead is huge, and my Mom is convinced my feet are bigger than my Dad’s. When I have a good idea I often rub my hands together like an evil villain. I like coffee at fourteen though I don’t drink it all the time, and I make myself smoothies and carry two Aces of Spades in my wallet.
What about you?
It might be a mannerism. I recently met someone in another city who walked around with his one hand stroking his chin as he talked. He seemed like a very thoughtful person because of it. Some people take long strides. Others walk too slowly. Some people talk too loud. Some people chew with their mouth closed, or open. Often people talk with their hands. When my Dad sneezes it sounds like he’s saying “Russia!” Some people say “yeah,” or maybe “I got what your saying.” A new one: “of course.” Maybe they just nod.
Character quirks pop. It’s all about finding the right ones, the unique ones, and tampering with them. Holding onto them. Look around you. Everybody has them. It’s just about noticing them so that they enter your brain with the label “quirk” on them. You need to recognize them for what they are.
In my book, few of my characters have quirks. That’s because, as mentioned before, I was never into character depth. But, if all goes well and I get Bayonet within reach again, my editing processes will occur in layers, and some of those layers will be devoted too particular characters, such as my MCs and more. I have lots of these quirks planned. Some are deep. Some are not. Some have reasons and others don’t.
Secondly is attitude. This can also be categorized as outlook. It doesn’t just mean whether the MC is mad or mean or mellow. It also means whether she can never have a good day since her mom passed and’s always depressed, or if the sun always shines bright, especially when she’s around her best friend.
This has a lot of sway on the choices characters make. Now attitude is plot. If you like no place more than England, it’s a lot harder for you to go to Narnia a second time. If kingship makes you feel set apart from your family, being a good monarch will be tough. Outlook or attitude is the strongest connection between characters and plot—it makes there decisions real. But you need those attitudes to be consistent though. It’s not believable if Alby vowed to never eat junk food again then casually munched on some at the town picnic.
Alright, so the last biggie in character depth are backstories. Firstly know that backstories are entirely unimportant if they do not affect the character or plot. In such a case as this, backstories can be boring. Only J. R. R. Tolkien and few other special guys can pull off character backgrounds that don’t change the trip to Mordor. But for us modern writers, we need to keep away from the unimportant before readers get bored and move to another of the countless other books out there just as good or better than ours. So in all, make your backstories important, or don’t have them at all!
But backstories can be important. Character quirks can have backstories, though they should only last a few sentences unless they’re extremely important. But sometimes they are, and we just need to know how they came about. Why is Taylor so mean? Why can’t Drew use is sword-arm any longer? We need to know if Taylor’s meanness hurts the MC or Drew’s fighting the best spaniard in the world. Then every line of the background of Taylor and Drew impacts us and adds another stratum of depth.
Crafting backstories can be hard though. What’s the best way to do that? Well I can’t certainly say. Maybe it’s about looking at our own backstories. I haven’t been around average American boys for around three years except for short spurts. When I am around them, I’m not quite sure how to handle it. I have fun and they have fun, but knowing when enough of one thing’s enough or when I should joke or listen seriously…it’s hard, believe it or not.
Not being around boys is my backstory. The lack of comfort around them it is the trait that resulted. What are your backstories? (I’m not asking you to tell me, mind you, just to think about them and see if you can modify them into your characters.) Backstories, as afore mentioned, should be handled wisely.
OK! I hope you like my take on character depth, and I’ll see you next time!