Writing Characters: Give Them Purpose

I always thought calling characters round or flat was rather stupid. Where is the line when my flat character with a food baby turns into something pudgy and glorious?

Rather than label characters by their density, let’s label them by their purpose.

How do you weed out the purposeful characters from the purposeless? Easy! Here’s how:

  • Is your character merely there for comedic relief or do they have a role no other character can fulfill? If it’s the former, write them out or give them a purpose to live other than to make people laugh. Unless your book is about a comedian, then carry on.
  • Is your character responding to every situation in the same manner? (ie: always sarcastic, defensive, mistrusting, etc.) If so, give them a bigger personality. People often contradict themselves and it’s okay to have a character be shy but sometimes chatty if the mood is right. Just be consistent with it.
  • Does your character stay the same throughout the story? If so, change their situation to force them to grow. It’s not realistic for a character to emerge from a trial unscathed.
  • If it’s a secondary character, do they help the main character(s) in a way no one else can?
  • And probably one of the most important questions, does your character help fulfill the theme of your story? If the answer to this is no, and the character in question is important, then you seriously need to rethink the character or the theme.

Giving your characters a purpose will give them life. If they have no purpose, then you have no story. (Sorry for the harshness, my husband says I’m mean sometimes.)

If you don’t want to hear it from me, maybe Hemingway can convince you…

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Living people have purpose, and where there is purpose there is personality, contradictions in thoughts and actions, and desire.

What’s the best living person/character you’ve ever read and why?

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

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