Do you struggle when you are trying to add depth to your characters? At times I too struggle with it. And over time I started noticing feelings or experiences in my life which I wrote down. I did that because I found those were the most human moments in life.
In this post I will attempt to give you ideas on how to add depth to your characters. But, I will also try to avoid tropes such as a detective with a drinking problem.
Here, I will focus on emotional side of characters with some tips on how to use hobbies and interests as windows into their soul.
We spoke before about character creation – if you haven’t read it, be sure to do it now. So, to save us all time, let’s begin!
5 Ways To Add Depth To Your Characters
Saudade and Nostalgia
There is a difference between saudade and nostalgia. And let us first examine saudade.
Saudade is a Portuguese word which is at times translated as missingness but the translation is not completely accurate. It describes the deep nostalgia or profound melancholy for something that was and can never be again. The term is mostly in connection to lost lovers and dear people who are missing, away for good or dead.
It is sometimes described as the love that remains once someone is gone. Saudade is a feeling we all experience in our lives. Also, it’s a strong feeling. Have a character who experiences this feeling and seeks a way to get over it. Alternatively, have a character who enjoys it and does not want to get over it.
Nostalgia is a feeling of missing or wanting to go back and experience moments and periods again but it is more connected to homesickness than pure missingness. Yet, this feeling was heavily researched after world wars because there was a noticeable number of soldiers who experienced nostalgia for their fighting times.
This can at times be a terrible feeling. It is not necessarily limited to homesickness as in missing one’s home but to missing the life, events and people who made personal home. The reason I say it can be a terrible feeling is that it can be very well connected to bad experiences. A person can often experience nostalgia for the worst periods of their life.
Have a character who has a severe nostalgia for something bad that they went through and are now coping with it, trying to pinpoint why exactly they miss it – especially if they, logically and realistically, do not want to experience it again.
This is an unusual one as it is spoken about often and most commonly in sentences such as: “Why can’t I be content? What is wrong with me?”
People strive for contentment all the time. They want to find that one thing they can do that will make them content. Everyone wants to be content, and many will act as they are, but you can clearly see if someone truly is content. The first signal is the specific smile of joy, recognized in eyes before on lips.
Have a character trying to be content, looking for it, acting out of need for it. Have them even think they are content but find they are not. How will they deal with it?
It can be very well incorporated in any genre if you are not writing literary fiction.
Characters cannot be all-perfect. It’s boring and we’ve all seen t. I’m not suggesting everything has to be original, but giving an extra trait that is rarely found and isn’t a focus of the story makes the more interesting.
Your main character, unless it’s an antihero, needs to serve as the moral compass for readers. They need to connect with your character in order to like your story.
So, to avoid boring characters, don’t just give them a flaw on top of their moral stands. Find a specific situation in which your character must abandon their beliefs and act in a hypocritical manner. Readers will justify it if you do it well. Think of Hitchcock’s Psycho and the way the audience justifies her theft even though she has a great speech about being respectable and acting that way. That’s the way to add depth to your characters.
What do your characters do in their free time? What do they do in opening scenes and the ordinary world stage of your novel or story?
Give your characters a hobby that is unusual in some way. It can even serve as a plot device if they have some knowledge that comes in handy once they need to achieve their goals. Or, it can be something they do that gives them a quirk or shows what sort of a person they are.
If they enjoy bird-watching they are probably someone who tries to be peaceful and content. Or at least someone who enjoys peace. This reminds me of a character from House of Cards who enjoys bird-watching except that in one scene a bird in the cage is very loud while he is talking on his phone and he grows frustrated and kills the bird. Let’s analyze: he is someone who enjoys peace of bird-watching and finds peace in nature but he is also ruthless and dangerous. That is a character no one can call two-dimensional.
Yes, when coming up with characters it is best to start from a stereotype. If people know it and like it they will relate to it.
But, don’t let you character stay a stereotype after the initial phase. Drinking problem, unless it’s a story about drinking problems, is an overused trope and it will hardly add depth to your characters.
Of course, your character needs burden and they need a way to cope with it. But, don’t let them become their burden and don’t let them only be a person seeking a way to cope with it. No one does that in real life. Show their burden only in specific moments when they reveal it but don’t highlight it.
Also, break every stereotype and take out the tropes leaving the natural and real part in and adding some other logical yet interesting traits.
There you have it. I hope yo enjoyed this post – if you have, be sure to leave a comment and continue the discussion. Also, don’t forget to share it on your favorite social platform so even more people can find one more useful thing today.
As always, keep writing!
Author: Mladen Reljanović
Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.