Few things are worse than a two dimensional protagonist, but creating multi-faceted characters isn’t easy. Building a strong backstory and compelling internal conflict takes more than time; it requires practice and discipline. Here’s a simple exercise to help you breathe life into characters when they feel less than convincing:
Conduct an interview with your protagonist.
Sit down to a blank piece of notepaper (or Word document) and write a list of questions that will help you develop the nuances of his / her person. These can range from trivial to probing and might include:
- What is your favorite food?
- When was the last time to talked to your parents?
- What is your greatest fear?
- Where did you go to school? What did you study?
- Who is your primary confidant?
- Who are your role models?
Ask yourself the same things. The answers don’t define you (you are more than your favorite restaurant or Starbucks order), but as a whole they reveal your goals, desires, and challenges. Only someone close to you knows the answers to these questions, and only an author who truly understands his / her protagonist can do the same.
Filling in the Blanks
Stories are built from scenes, and scenes involve elements of your protagonist’s daily life. If you already know how he / she feels about talking to her parents, you won’t spend as much time nailing down the details of their relationship when the story requires it.
Similarly, adding minor detail – such as a character’s morning routine or educational background – makes your characters more authentic and believable. Without these elements, you could leave your readers feeling like they don’t really know the person their supposed to care about most.