How well do you know your characters?

Why is it difficult to write complex and interesting characters? Because I must resist the temptation to simply tell about them. I cannot get upset by readers who expect to jump into immediate action and learn all about the character by the end of the first chapter. Only flat simplistic stock characters can be described that quickly. Some readers are intrigued by well-drawn individuals full of their own specific quirks, while others simply cannot get into anyone that well-developed and prefer the unrealistic action hero.

I described one of my protagonists as chubby with a pyramid-shaped nose, fat eyelids and frizzy hair. I also indicated that she did not consider herself attractive. Some readers assumed she just didn’t know how to fix herself up and was really very appealing. They thought she had to be—she was the main character. But, my main character was not self-deluding. Other people in the story did not consider her to be good-looking either. So, I realize that some readers see what they want to see, no matter how I paint characters’ portraits. That is beyond my control.

This brings up an important question. How much should I describe the exterior appearance and traits of the people in my stories? The sister of the chubby and ill-favored protagonist is seen as beautiful by other characters. I actually say little about her appearance other than she is slender with long dark hair in loose curls. If I explained what the younger sister looked like in detail, some readers might not agree with my assumption of attractiveness. So, it is more important to indicate how the other characters react to the person’s appearance than it is to describe the details. This helps readers get past preconceived notions about how certain kinds of body shapes, skin tone, hair or eye color, or even facial features look in their mind.

My insight into my own fiction characters? I know them well, their thoughts and traits. My major characters are based on real people, so I have a good idea of what makes them tick. I have insight into their passions and their fears and I even create their family tree. Although, that is not included in the story. But, they don’t decide their own destinies and commandeer the story. Instead a voice in my head warns me that my character is not really behaving as a person like that should. At that point, I start rewriting the story.

My main problem is remembering exactly how I spelled the character’s name each time. Was it Mackenzie or McKenzey or MacKenzy? So, I know my characters; just not their names.

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