by Cody

Question: I'm writing a novel in third person limited on an online site, and while everyone loves the protagonist with all his quirks and awkward nature, I'm struggling to characterize the other main character. The readers tell me they feel as though they "don't know him" although I've mentioned his back story and shown scenes with him interacting with the protagonist. I've tried filling out character questionnaires but I don't understand how to include those facts into the story. How do I flesh out this main character?

Answer: Of course, I haven't read your piece, but here are some general thoughts...

1. Be wary of taking criticism to heart. On an online site, you may not be getting expert advice. As Neil Gaiman says, readers can tell you if a story is not working for them, but they can't tell you how to fix it. Also, some people just like to push your buttons. Focus on making the story express your vision.

2. Characterization is not about how many facts about the character you include. The details are important for you to build up an understanding or image of the character in your own mind, so you get a feel for how the character will behave. But the key is letting the character speak and act in his/her unique way. The only traits you need to include in the story are those that are truly telling and significant; the rest stay in your notes. Including too many details can make a character and the writing seem dull. The writer can end up looking like she's trying too hard.

3. Something to bear in mind is that great characters are...

Authentic - they feel like people the you would encounter in real life.
Unique - they have a few traits that distinguish them from everyone else.
Consistent - in they are always themselves and their traits don't randomly come and go.
Surprising - they can defy expectations or have contradictory aspects to their personality.

Notice that these qualities contradict each other? People are like that. That's what makes them interesting.

4. I take it your story is not finished yet, and therefore it may be okay for the readers to not have all their questions answered already. By the end of the story, they may come to know the character better. Don't feel you have to tip your hand early. Sometimes it's better to have the character behave in mysterious ways and make the reader wait to find out why.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

search this site the web
search engine by freefind

Celebrating our 2nd year as one of the...

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero