you ever wonder why some novels have characters that seem to jump off
the pages and into the room with you? They are so realistic, so
complex. Authors who develop 3-D characters rather than paper-doll
people who fall flat provide readers with a satisfying experience.
For you who are discerning
readers, here’s a peek into the workstation of a novelist transforming
Pinocchio into a little boy.
Collect pictures from Google images, Flickr, or other online sources to
help envision each individual.
Do a personality test for each character. Perhaps the protagonist is a
sanguine and the antagonist is a melancholy. Or maybe you imagine each
one taking the Myers-Briggs test.
Select names from baby name books, being careful not to repeat the same
initial letter of the alphabet for characters’ names in the same story.
Imagine each character at a job interview. How would they respond?
What’s on their resumes? This helps novelists flesh out their lead
Build a file or corkboard of photos that typify the characters’
surroundings: where they live—house exteriors and interior rooms; do
they live in the desert, the mountains, or near a beach? what they
drive—are they more of a sport utility vehicle driver or a hybrid green
machine? Knowing all of this helps characters and stories seem real.
DEEP POINT OF VIEW.
Deep point of view (POV) is close third person, a combination of first
and third person omniscient. It is driven by the character’s
experiences and emotions. Through this deeply penetrative POV, readers
see the scene through the character’s eyes. The words on the page never
leave his/her thoughts. We learn the motives behind actions. The
character’s attitude is portrayed as he/she is living it, rather than
looking back on it at a later time and describing it.
When used carefully, internal dialogue can help readers become voyeurs
of the mind. There’s nothing like reading someone’s mind to feel like
you know him better! It helps us sense his emotions, intentions, and
Jennifer Knight says, “Great
characters couple universal qualities, emotions, and motivations with a
unique combination of attributes and impulses, some of which are
contradictory. These contradictions are at the heart of your
character’s originality and her struggle to grow. Without them your
character will come across as one-dimensional, not quite human, a type
rather than an original.”
main characters will grow throughout the story. Readers enjoy sensing
the ups and downs of that journey, and appreciate when characters
mature and progress through various trials, situations, and
The best novels aren’t predictable. Authors will cleverly write in
shocking reactions or suspenseful choices or mysteries. When a
surprising character trait is revealed, we are hooked—the author then
reels us in with a roller-coaster story arc.
cousin used to say that it’s always good to show one “oops” on purpose
so that others don’t try to keep finding your flaws and faults. He’d go
into business meetings with his tie slightly askew or a hair out of
place. He figured then they’d be satisfied he wasn’t perfect, and they
could move on to the business at hand. Book characters also need flaws
and peculiarities for us to bond to them or despise them or however we
choose to respond. On television shows, some of my favorite characters
are the quirkiest: Abby Sciuto from NCIS, Penelope
Garcia from Criminal Minds, and Adrian Monk from Monk.
What star would play the main characters in the movie version of the
book? Often it’s fun to morph two actors together and come up with
As a reader, it’s always
interesting to get into the heads of our favorite authors and learn
more about how they create such amazing reads. Creating 3-D characters
is just one way they deliver the goods.
Take the book you’re currently reading and run through these dozen
tools to see if you can learn a little more about the main characters.
Use your imagination to fill in the blanks.