3 Steps to Tackling Bland Characters & Making Them Stand Out

3 Steps to Tackling Bland Characters & Making Them Stand Out

3 Steps to Tackling Bland Characters & Making Them Stand Out
Photo by Royce Bair / via Flickr

3 Steps to Tackling Bland Characters & Making Them Stand Out

When you think about the word "character," what comes to mind?

Merriam-Webster defines character as "the main or essential nature especially as strongly marked and serving to distinguish." The operative word here is "distinguish."

Yet, why is it we find bland characters in our stories? When we spend countless hours creating a story, why do we find that we skimp on character?

Part of the reason is that we just don't know any better. We think we have everything figured out, but writing isn't that easy. Even when we've written many stories and we've gone through all of the processes. It's not always because we're not talented. It could just be that we don't know any better or we overlooked it.

The important thing here is that you recognize when your characters need to be enhanced. You can do that by knowing how to improve them to create more dynamic characters.

Here are 3 steps to tackling bland characters…

Step One

First, think about why the character needs to be in the story to begin with.

Unnecessary characters will drag a story down and cause readers to skim the text and miss potentially important details.

The character's parts in the story might be engaging, but if they don't move the story along, you're doing a disservice to the reader. You're creating more words and details that don't need to be there.

When evaluating your characters and your story, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the character's role?

  • Does the character help move the story forward?

  • How do the character's traits tie in to the story?

  • Does the character's background make it easier or harder for the point-of-view (POV) character to achieve the story's objective?

Step Two

Give your character a special (unusual) trait or quirk.

What makes your character unique? Providing individuality to characters helps make them more interesting to readers.

Avoid using stereotypes though. Characters should not be stock models. Research has discovered that age-based stereotypes are simply based on pop culture; they have no bearing on fact.

Besides, most people are more complex than what they show on the surface. "Airheads," for instance, are spacey, but they each have traits that are specific to their own biological makeups and backgrounds.

So, before using stereotypical character traits, ask yourself:

  • Do the traits really make the character interesting?

  • Am I making it easier on myself by not fleshing out the character and making her special?

  • Am I gaining anything by using a stock character?

Step Three

Talk about your character's background.

To add more depth to your story and characters, bring in details about their backgrounds. What makes them who they are today (in your story)? What kind of childhood did your character have? Was his father an alcoholic or a workaholic? Was her grandmother the typical, loving grandmother or was she distant? What did he do during his first few years of adulthood? Or if it's for a children's book, what did the character do last fall or during his summer break?

When you give your characters more thought, you, in turn, add more depth and you make them more interesting. Stereotypical characters are cliche. It's time to go beyond the typical and create characters that are really unique.

What exercises or techniques do you use to add depth to your characters?

Jody Calkins
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