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In October issue... Character Depth in Fiction - by Bruce L. Cook


Bruce L. Cook

Character Depth in Fiction

As a fiction writer, how do you handle character development? In a novel, are your main story participants three-dimensional characters? .... (continued below)


Bruce L. Cook - Character Depth in Fiction

First, some characters in your story have a minor part, sort of like “bit parts” in a movie. These require little description – perhaps a mention of their dress and expression.

Second, there are important characters that disappear early in the saga. These may be family or close associates of the main characters. Here, it might suffice to include a paragraph describing their appearance, background, and role in the drama.

Finally, and most import, are the main characters – usually no more than six or eight. In this cast of characters, I suggest three options for A fiction writer to consider.

One, it’s possible to give just a cursory view of the person. A twisted ear, a curled lip, green eyes – some characteristic to help readers visualize the person and recognize the character throughout the story. For example, to keep a focus on the main characters, it may be appropriate to mention the curled lip at several parts in the story. They can be especially important to remember as the reader is frequently disconnected from the story, only to return later. In that case, it’s important to jog the reader’s memory of an important character.

In addition to the cursory view, fiction permits the standard third person narrator in which the writer gives a description of the character, perhaps at length. Here it is possible to implant a variety of important thoughts, though the narrative form of description may cause the reader to “jump ahead” to the next bit of action.

Third as you may suspect, is the possibility of flashbacks. Here, having introduced a slice of time in the character’s background, the story jumps back and tells a “story within a story” – a pivotal event in the main character’s life which the character is remembering at this moment in the story.

In no way would I suggest that these are mutually exclusive choices. Indeed, the story may benefit from use of all three options. Perhaps it’s worth noting that, in the current state of quick action in film and games, there is a danger of using any of these at length. It would be reasonable to suggest that reader patience is at an all time low.

I any case, it is very important for our stories to depend on three-dimensional characters. As writers, we must create them.


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Publishing New Writers,

October, 2021 (vol. 22, no.10)


Dr. Bruce L. Cook
1407 Getzelman Drive
Elgin, IL 60123

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