Yup. You read that right. If we want to produce marketable stories, our characters have to be imperfect people—just like us.
OK, you already knew that, right? Well, I can be kinda slow to catch on to things. I didn’t learn this lesson until I received my first set of Revision Notes.
When my agent sent me her notes not long after offering me representation, she noted several weaknesses in my story. One area I needed to address in my rewrite was that of characterization.
My heroine was flawed. Too flawed. She was on “an emotional roller coaster” and at times became “weak and whiny and terribly unlikable.” Yikes!
My hero, on the other hand, was “almost too perfect.” He was easy to love—too easy. I’d unwittingly left little room for him to grow as a character. Not only that, but there was no reason for the heroine to resist her attraction to him. Everyone loved him, so why wouldn’t she?
In reshaping my characters, I had to find a middle ground. They needed to be likable but have some rough edges. Following are some of the steps I took that helped me deepen my characters as I worked on my rewrite.
•Get to know your characters
What are their backstories?
What are their unique characteristics?
What traits do they have that get them in trouble?
•Identify your characters’ goals and motivations
What do they want to achieve?
Why are their goals important to them?
What are they willing to do to reach their goals?
•Cause the reader to care about your characters
Let the reader into their thoughts
Reveal their fears and insecurities
Show how they’ve been hurt in the past
When my hero developed into a man who’d been deeply hurt by his late wife, carried a wagonload of guilt, and had suffered a great loss, he no longer came across as having his life all together and became more sympathetic. Giving him the habit of putting his foot in his mouth, especially when dealing with the heroine, made him someone a reader can relate to. After all, haven’t we all done the same thing more times than we want to remember?
Clarifying what my heroine wanted and intensifying her desire to achieve her goal transformed her into a strong woman who knows her own mind. Using internal monologue to show what leads her to take action helps her come across as a reasonable woman rather than one at the mercy of her emotions.
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I wanna know . . .
How do you go about developing a character?
What are some of the flaws you’ve given your characters?
Have you ever had a character deemed too perfect or too flawed?