Four Ways to Deepen and Strengthen Your Characters

3:00:00 PM

My favorite part of stories has always been the characters. Characters that are deep and dark and beautiful or light and adorable and enchanting. Small and frightened, big and protective, I've loved the whole gamut... and I've kinda hated the whole gamut. The difference between my love and my... extreme dislike has rarely been the archetypes themselves (except maybe when it comes to villains ;) ), but between the deep characters and the shallow ones.

Here's something a lot of people seem to realize yet not truly understand: characters both are and are not real people. They are not real—technically—but they have to feel real in order for the reader to fully engage with and understand their story. I've often found that characters I would normally dislike for decisions they make or archetypes they represent, I loved instead because the author invisibly took me by the hand and showed me how the story looked from the characters' perspectives. I understood them, their stories touched my heart, and so the characters became real to me.

That in mind, here are a few ways that authors—specifically those in the YA and MG genres—can go about creating characters that feel like real people, grab the hearts of their readers, and live in their fans' memories for ages to come.

#1: Spend Time With Your Characters:
This can be done in a lot of different ways and they all work differently for different people. I know of authors who write character diaries, do character interviews, long character chats with other authors, full MBTI tests, all kinds of different exercises to get a feel for their character's personality and know how to write them deeply and accurately.

Personally, my favorite method is to simply write about them. Write their story, yes, but write other things too. Things you might not even use like character prompts, blog link-ups, even will you press the button. It's easy to find questions online—from the random to the heartwrenching—to test your characters with and teach you a little more about who they are and how they'll act throughout your book.

#2 Let Your Characters Be Themselves
Once you've got a good idea of who your characters are, just let them be themselves. Don't force them to take out-of-character actions for the sake of your plot; readers, especially YA readers, will catch those in a heartbeat. Either change something about the character so the action makes more sense or (my personal recommendation, since I'm more of a character-oriented writer and reader) change the plot. Yes, it's difficult and, especially if you outline, it will throw a massive monkey wrench into all of your plans. But if you go through with your planned plot, wrangling your characters into things that just aren't right for them, readers will notice and it's only going to work against you.

#3 Understand Every Action Your Character Takes.
Sometimes characters do weird things; sometimes characters do bad things. But as the author, it's your responsibility to know the why of every choice your characters make. Their explanations don't always have to be spelled out in the narrative, however you should give your character a compelling reason (from their perspective) for everything they do, and then weave those reasons through the story, so the reader can also understand them.

#4 Sometimes, Just Let The Character Take The Reins
If you're a pantser, this will be all the time. ;) But even for outliners and hardcore plotters, sometimes your characters will do things that are unexpected, and I think those are times to at least try letting them take the reins and just see where they go with the story. Keep your outline on hand, so you can get back on track if the rabbit trail doesn't work, but you never know where those crazy kids from your head will take you. In my experience, it's almost always somewhere good... for the story. It's hard to get to and the way is full of brambles and splinters and chiggers and burrs, but it's great once you get all that smoothed out. ;)

So what is your favorite method for deepening your characters? What's your favorite character of all time and why do you think that is? Can't wait to hear from you, and I will see you in the comment section!

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