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Writing multi-level characters

When I look around my house I see many different themes. I can never make up my mind which theme I prefer over the others and thus I live in an eclectically decorated home. I've accepted that I have multiple tastes so now I buy items that resonate with me and they always find a place in my home.

I love the bright colours of Spanish influence which feature in my bathroom and bedrooms - brightly coloured and patterned bed lined, candles in wrought iron holders, lilac walls, blue walls. The Spanish influence is something that I can't explain, I've never been there but I believe I have Spanish blood somewhere along the line and it comes through in my taste of décor.

I also love the monochrome look featured in my living room, a love I picked up from watching black and white movies as a child. for me the monochrome Hollywood represents chasing dreams.

I also love the animals prints that are splashed all over my home - zebra prints on the walls, zebra patterned winter blanket, elephant and rhino statuettes, fake ferns in cast iron pots and urns. This theme connects me to nature.

And I also love the beach look that is scattered in my bedrooms and living rooms - the oar that is weather beaten and belonged to my late father-in-law, the shells I collected from the beach, the white blinds and all white walls. The beach look is a way of connecting with the present. I look out over the water and imagine that one day I will be looking at another horizon, but not today.

When it comes to renovating around my house, I'm at a constant war with themes and I tell myself that I should pick just one. But I simply can't, and there a reason for this.

Each of these themes represents a separate part of my journey as a person.

Many writers will create a character profile before they begin writing. It's a long list of likes, dislikes, star sign, job, family, hobbies, schooling etc. Okay, there are some things that won't change unless they are pivotal to the plot such as hair colour, eye colour, height. When writing, we should consider giving our characters multiple layers to their personalities. A character's likes and dislikes, they way they do things daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, the way they throw caution to the wind one minute and then race to catch it the next. The way a character can hold a grudge for one act and then forgive the same act at a later stage.

I've read some novels where a character only behaves a certain way and only that way. They only drink the one type of drink. They only wear the one type of clothing. Granted, there are some people like this in the real world, but mostly people change and evolve and revert and shift. People are like the weather - they can change quickly and then change back just as quickly. We are not androids, though there are times when I wish I could just switch off and lock myself in a closet.

Writers can run the risk of creating cardboard characters or even cliché characters if they ignore normal human behaviour. Our friends and family will always surprise us, sometimes disappoint us, at times upset us, and how we react is just as varied as how they react. and this makes for better conflict amongst the characters, and where there is conflict, there is conflict resolution.

Moods do affect how people behave. If we're tired or stressed, we'll do things that others might consider "out of character". But sometimes "out of character" is actually true character unveiled. We often put on masks in public or at our jobs, we often adapt our behaviours in social groups to fit in. But there are times when we are provoked into revealing our true self or our dream self.

I like the concept of dream self - this is the one where you ask your character "if you had 6 months to live what would you do?"

Unveiling hidden traits can move a plot along, it can become part of the character's journey, and it is often the insightful moment - the part that without it there would be no story.

If you're having trouble adding extra layers to your character, consider the three act structure.

Act I - put your characters in a tree
Act II - set the tree on fire
Act III - get them out of the tree.

This approach can be used when developing your character. How will they react at each of these stages and which is the true self, which is the hidden self, which is the dream self, and which self did they like better? Will they revert back to old self, will they change? These are not issues exclusive to characters in novels, people face this real issue daily, and that is why I encourage writing multi-layered characters - to connect with your reader.

Unless the stoic approach to character writing is pivotal to your plot, I'd say give creating multi-layered characters a go.

Good luck with your writing!


D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.

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