Monday 5 May 2014

Writing Craft - Multi-Dimensional Characters

My major tip on getting your characters to feel like real, complex people we know and love may sound a bit strange, because it doesn't involve a lot of tangible work. However, when I come across genuine, lovable characters in the books I read, I wonder whether the author has done what I'm about to suggest. It's simply getting more details about your characters fixed in your own head than you ever need to give to readers.

These don't have to concern details which are crucial to your story's plot. It can be about any old trivia. While you're working on a story, simply daydream about your characters during those random moments when you have a bit of time to kill in a day. You may be standing in a queue, driving a familiar route home, soaking in the bath or pulling a few weeds from the garden. When you think about your characters with no particular agenda in mind, you may come to sense random details such as their favourite toothpaste, the football teams they support, how they might respond to the joke you've just heard over the radio, and how they might choose to clown around at parties.

I've done this since I was a teenager at school. I was an obedient student who never caused problems in class, but the habit of drifting into my own head to daydream about book characters was my silent type of defiance. When boring videos were set, for example, I'd phase out into the more entertaining trivia about the fictional characters in my head. I used to feel guilty, believing it to be a complete waste of time with no value except for the pure entertainment factor, since these snippets weren't ever going to find their way into any story. Since my High School days, I've come to think differently.

Building up this sort of vivid inner world for your characters is anything but pointless for a fiction author. I am sure these tidbits which are known to you but remain unsaid give characters a subtle depth, and prevent flatness. Although your character probably won't be called upon to give his critique of the current government, for example, the fact that he would instantly be able to do so if he was called upon gives him a spark of life which another author's flatter character who simply serves the demands of the plot may lack.

When we get this familiar with our characters, they have the potential to seem like thinking, separate entities, instead of just inventions to serve some function in the plot of a story. You've probably heard some writers say, "My characters are my friends." I've seen non-writers roll their eyes and say how crazy that sounds, but I'm sure fiction authors understand. A friend is somebody you spend time with, whose inner thoughts you gradually get to discover, both the deep and the trivial. This is exactly what happens when you allow daydreams about your characters to transport you into the their world. They are indeed your friends, and writing them into your stories is your way of introducing them to others.

It may seem strange to see simple daydreaming being put forward as a writing craft method, but that's what makes writing such a special pursuit. Until we take this step of immersing ourselves in daydreams, it's hardly worth taking any other.

There are countless ways to approach this, and I'll suggest just a couple. You may find it easy to get carried away by music. Depending on your age and personal preferences, any style or genre that works for you will be great. I find the lyrics of several songs from the seventies onwards will inspire reactions from my characters, and if my characters are senior citizens, old songs from my parents' era may be enough to evoke tears.

Another idea is to consider discussing a favourite novel by another author with a character from one of your own. What a great way of getting into the richness of your character's psyche and possibly bust writer's block or boredom at the same time.

In the spirit of this blog post, I'm planning to have a special post at the end of my blog tour for my new release, "Imogen's Chance". I'm inviting readers to ask questions of any of my characters. I will provide their answers on my final blog tour post, which will be on May 31st. Readers will have had plenty of time to read the book by then, and I'm hoping for some good, random questions to put before Imogen, Asher, or any of their supporting cast of characters. If you would like to put forward a question or two, I'd love to hear from you.

I wish anybody who is working on some fiction of their own at the moment some happy times with their character friends as they daydream.

Paula Vince is the South Australian author of contemporary dramas with elements of romance and suspense. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. You can visit her blog here and join the blog tour.


  1. Okay ... here's my question. Imogen grew up in the US, and we've all watched enough American TV to know that high schools are full of cliques: geeks, nerds, sporty guys, cheerleaders, chess club etc.

    Where did Imogen fit in the US high school pecking order?

    1. Hi Iola,
      Lol, I'll resist the temptation to answer that question right now and place it my post at the end of this month. I'll welcome any more :)

  2. Hi Paula - Thanks for a great post. I've been daydreaming about my own made-up characters since I was 8 or 9. I actively stopped for a period of several years (in my thirties) because it felt like a guilty pleasure - but have taken up the habit again once when I started writing again a couple of years ago.

    So my question for Imogen - who is her favourite author and why?

  3. Hi Jeanette,
    That's exactly my story! For the exact same reason too. If you're like me, we also tend to daydream about other people's characters too, which to me is the sign of a good book.
    Thanks, I'll add that question to my list for May 31.

  4. Interestingly I knew you had written this post Paul even before I came to the bit about Imogen's Chance. It sounded like you. My question -what is Imogen's favourite daydream?

    1. Hi Dale,
      Really? I would think it a 'me' type of post, and it makes me smile to think you would too. Thanks for the question. I'll add it to Imogen for the 31st.

    2. Sorry I left the a off the end of your name Paula.

  5. Yes I guessed it was you too Paula.
    I agree that the author daydream is a useful pastime despite what others may think! If anything I find I don't get enough uninterrupted time to imagine my characters finer traits and it adversely effects my ability to write at times.

  6. Hi Catherine,
    I know what you mean. That's why some of my favourite times are when my husband is driving us home from far-away places, and all I have to do is sit in the passenger's seat. If it is night time, that seems to help too. I never used to mind catching buses with the longest, windiest routes home, for the same reason.
    The life of a busy homeschooling mum fills up quickly, I know. Grab your daydreaming time when you can :)

  7. Bath time w/out music to distract me and in my own warm world is my dreaming time.

    Once my character was writing a sad letter to a fellow who loved her. It was so real my eyes filled up. This happened while in filling in time in the waiting room while my dear husband was having an eye operation.The nurse entered to tell me the op was over, but must have seen my teary eyes, because she said. "There's nothing to worry about. Your husband's fine."

    Oh, did I feel guilty!

  8. I meant also to say I enjoyed your post, Paula. Yes all those details sure make a difference to rounding out our characters...otherwise known as our special friends!

  9. Hi Rita,
    That's a lovely story. It was good timing, though, because it was reasonable for her to come up with a reason for your tears. If it had happened on public transport, that would be another thing.
    I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  10. Paula, great post! Daydreaming time is so important, and I break up my writing time with mundane household chores that allow my mind to wander. I also daydream while exercising, and it's one of the reasons why I love cycling classes.

  11. Hi Narelle,
    Funny you mention that, I've just this morning stumbled across an article explaining how good it is for your brain cells to break up activity like this.


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