Writing Secrets: What subtlety can do for your characters

 In The secrets behind the practice of good writing, Tips for Writers

What is it that makes a character come across as a caricature, rather than a finely drawn person we can believe in?

Well, clearly, two-dimensionality plays its part. If you draw your world in dualities, your characters will lack credibility. If they’re all bad or all good, or plain ridiculous, they will come across as parodies.

But take it one step further than character development. This issue has to do with subtle writing.

You might have a character who is well meaning but clumsy. If you allow him to “stomp straight over her impatiens”, he’ll come across as a cartoon character. We’ll feel nothing but contempt for him, and a deep sense of irritation.

Perhaps, instead, he tries to catch the escaped cat. As he stretches up to the tree, calling “Here, kitty kitty”, he loses his balance, steps back and flattens the impatiens. He feels dreadful about it, perhaps even tries, futilely, to straighten the snapped stalks.

We’ll feel, as his wife does, exasperation … but it’s exasperation blended with sympathy. We’ll feel mixed emotions – because he’s a complex character. He’ll feel real.


Read Richard’s latest blog Monday Motivation: Sink your hooks into your reader – fast

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