What makes a character three-dimensional? Is there a secret recipe to bringing them to life on the page?
I believe it’s much like the folding and unfolding of the universe. Layers of a character can open portals to the known and unknown. Writers who spend much of their time in the development of their characters know this. From a creationist sense, they not only write for their reader to see, taste, touch and hear their character, but give them ample filters to feel their experience. Descriptions are subtle but potent, eliciting images of their characters in the reader’s mind. They allow their readers the seek the vast space where vulnerability sits in their characters.
Writing them is an intimate ritual of digging deep under the skin, beneath the bone structure, right down to the blood cells. It takes precision and consistent calculation where not a single sensory capacity is wasted. An author who can do this has developed a sort of synesthetic patience. They become practiced at building up the connected tissue of their character. These are the characters who embody the fragile ecosystem of an experience and how they fit within it. Once this is accomplished, the plot evolves around this relationship.
This is what it takes to break the mold in character development. We love Harry Potter because we not only see every last inch of him but we’ve worn his scar. We breathe his experience. As readers, we can connect with a character in such an intimate way that our empathetic centers are tricked into believing we are somehow a part of that character or that we were given a front-row seat into the mirror of their soul. The faculties of our five senses braided into one solid rope gives our reader something to hang on to throughout the story and that’s a great start.
But there is a sixth sense. The emotional epicenter. As writers, we often omit this or forget to tap into this source. When developing characters, this added layer of skin on skin turns on the empathy switch needed. After accomplishing this, it takes little to coax a character into the hearts and minds of readers. And like any good magic trick, it takes a writer’s sleight-of-hand to apply it without the reader even knowing it.
Here are some ways to fine-tune a character:
- Choose a scene you wish to enhance and highlight any instances where the character is ‘feeling’ something that you feel could be improved by emotional consonance.
- Think about how to expose that feeling by making it actionable and giving it moving, breathing parts. Consider how the character is moving through the experience or being reshaped by it.
- Highlight these instances and spend some time refining one or more of the emotional aspects of this experience. Be deliberate at first and then aim higher, allowing your empathetic center to awaken and take hold.
- Consider in this event what your readers will want. They read to have their own experiences amplified. This is the connected tissue. It’s the writer’s job to create instances that enhance and expose that virtual sort of reality.
- Finally, re-read both editions of the scene to a writing partner or beta reader. Ask them which one evokes more of an introspective lens into the character’s experience. Which example pulled drew them in more?
Tricks are Treats when “words are the sweets in the mouth of sound” and an author can supply the brain hack necessary to entice a reader to leave this world and enter the world of their story.