Let’s make our characters better, pull back the layers. Peel the onion as it’s said in writer’s circles. Make that character come alive. It’s really easy to do when you begin to think about your character.
Many manuscripts come across my desk where the characters are like paper dolls. Remember those cardboard figures that stood there while you dressed them? That’s what a lot of characters look like. They stand there with no personality. I remember playing with them as a child, but now I see I was the one giving them a personality. The wedding dress was only a wedding dress until my thoughts made it come alive.
You peel the onion gradually. Not all of the layers when we see the character for the first time. Never write, “Susie enters the room. Her hair is brown and her eyes blue. She’s wearing a pink dress with a yellow petticoat showing beneath. She is about 5’7″ with no fat on her.” Yes we have a description, what is she like down deep. We have to peel back to find the character’s personality.
We could say, “Susie enters the room with a sweep of her dainty hands smoothing her pink dress. Unlike her, her yellow petticoat is showing.” What did we learn? She is small boned, dainty hands. She likes to look well, smoothes her dress. She would never intentionally let her petticoat show. As we learn more about Susie, we will remember these things. We will peel the onion back in another place. She can shake her short curly hair. She may be a cut-up and cross her blue eyes. She may show deep emotion in another place. We want to like her so she can be endearing in other places. Give her a heart!
How can we do this? Tags are wonderful places to give a character life. A lot of it depends on the POV you’re writing in. Short narratives, not telling, can be used to tell more about a person. Right now I’m writing in Omniscience POV and my characters can’t have any narrative or thoughts, but the person telling the story can have all the descriptions of the characters, their thoughts, and all knowledge. I had always shied away from Omniscience POV, but I’m enjoying it very much. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing.
Show all of the characters emotions. Don’t let anything slip. Show their fear, happiness, sadness, and any other emotion. Be sure to include the senses. Maybe she can’t stand the smell of bacon cooking, and she’s a cook in a restaurant. She may love the sound of rain on a tin roof. This peels the onion and we know more about her.
Begin thinking about how you will make your character come alive. Have fun with your writing.