Once I went to a Comic Con panel about Joss Whedon and why he’s so good at what he does. If you’re unfamiliar with Joss, he’s directed the shows Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse and several of the Avengers movies and series episodes, just to name a few. He’s been wildly successful.
When I saw this panel, I was just beginning my Indie publishing career. I had two traditionally published books out, but I knew that was the tip of the iceberg. I had a long way to go, and needed some direction.
Well, I got it.
The panel moderator asked why people loved Joss Whedon’s stuff. By far the most popular answer was that the fans loved his characters. They were real, they were funny and they had great conflicts.
I took this all to heart, and wrote my next book, Fractured Memories. I included a large-ish cast of characters and thought I had them all worked out. Until my beta readers came back and said things like, “What is this character even doing in the story? She’s boring” or “Your characters are a little flat.”
So, I hit up the internet and Googled the best books on characters. I needed something deeper than Orson Scott Card’s Character and Viewpoint, which is great, but too broad for what I needed. I bought a couple: The Art of Character by David Corbett and Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins, which is a book on what authors can learn from actors. I studied, wrote down things I hoped would help, and incorporated them.
The biggest change I made was to give each character a dream. A goal. Something they wanted more than anything else. My main character, Wendy, had these things, but n ot the secondary characters. Arie didn’t have a purpose until I decided she wanted to be part of the council that ran Shelter, which propelled her entire plot after that. Cal loved computers and movies, which again brought him into the spotlight for something besides his passable fighting skills. As soon as I incorporated this technique, my book got better. Even I could tell. And a couple of the first reviews I got on it specifically mentioned how much the readers liked the characters, including the side characters.
My little heart went pitter-patter, and I melted. It actually worked! Now I do this in all of my books. Sometimes it’s more apparent than others, but it brings a depth to the characters that I was missing and one that readers crave.