Struggling with character? Look at your major characters with the following in mind:
– Is it clear what my protagonist and antagonist want emotionally and physically?
– Do my character’s personality traits work with each other, or contradict each other?
Small contradictions – a punk rocker who secretly loves Justin Bieber – round a character out. Larger contradictions (i.e., a character who is consistently described as Type-A but then is also described as a spontaneous risk taker) fight against each other.
– Are we looking at a list of favorites, instead of showing some of their personality through action?
For example, telling you my character likes The Wizard of Oz, Coldplay and the color pink doesn’t tell you as much as showing my character tapping her heels, whispering “there’s no place like home” and comparing herself to Judy Garland whenever she’s in a tight situation.
– Does my protagonist have a fatal flaw?
A protagonist who is just-so-perfect all the time makes for both an unrelateable character and a boring plot. If the character always knows the answer, and always gets it right the first time, then the story loses tension. The reader never worries that the character will fail, and if that’s so, why read on?
What else do you look for when you revise and/or build your characters?