Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing Craft: Rounding Out Your Characters, Part Four

First, sorry for the lack-of-post last Friday. No computer = no blogging. But - hooray! - ol' Lenny is back from the shop, which means I am back on the blog!

We've covered a few ways to round out your characters: giving them specific interests, giving them global problems, and giving them distinctive speech patterns or verbal tics. But there are a few we haven't talked about yet. One oft-promoted way to make your characters more three-dimensional and believable is what I think of as the "C" word of the literary world. CONFLICT.

But what does that mean exactly?

Well, there's the conflict that you get when screaming yellow aliens threaten to coat your planet with purple goo and your hero has been locked in a dungeon by a fire-breathing dragon and has to figure out how to save the day, but that's external conflict, and that's not what I'm talking about here. That's more of a plot thing than a character-development thing.

I'm talking about internal conflict. What you get when you give your character a desire that is at odds with who they see themselves to be as a person, or with the type of person they want to be. Like Edward in TWILIGHT: he's a vampire and he wants to eat Bella for lunch, but he's also got a conscience that tells him that it's wrong to kill people. And that was before he even figured out he loved her! Talk about conflict. Whatever you may say about TWILIGHT, whether you loved it or hated it (and please let's not bash it here), you have to give Stephanie Meyer credit for creating characters who were brimming with internal conflict.

Another example is Teresa Toten's BETTER THAN BLONDE, the sequel to ME AND THE BLONDES. In it, Sophie finds herself tempted by her high-school crush...who is newly married. He says he loves her, and (she thinks) she loves him too, but she knows that fooling around with someone else's guy is a no-no. But then again, his new wife practically stole him from her. But then again...adultery. See what I mean? Major conflict!

The important thing to remember here is that the struggle has to be fully realized. You can't have your character mull it over for a page or two and then, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, they decide and that's the end. Let them really be tempted by both options. Let them stew. Let them decide, then change their minds. Torture them a little. Because that's what life is: struggle over choices, regret, sacrifice, and doing better next time. And your characters need to live to be believable.

What books have you read lately that had characters who had to deal with some serious internal conflict?


  1. This is an excellent point, Ishta! I need to be meaner to my characters.

  2. This is so true. It took me a long time to realize the importance of inner conflict as well as the outer conflicts. And you're right, your character has to really struggle with the problem and even fail. Great post.

  3. Great post, Ishta! Inner conflict is so important to character development. You can also think about a character's ambition and values, and how those things may be in conflict with each other.

  4. 'Let them decide, then change their minds.' I like that - because it's what I do all the time, because it's real life. Even at a restaurant. I stew over the menu. Finally choose. Order it. But when it comes, someone else's smells, looks, and tastes way better than mine. Silly example, but you're point is right on.