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How to create complex, dynamic characters in fiction

Creating truly memorable characters requires time, patience, and trust.

How to create complex, dynamic characters in fiction


2. The story tells you more about your characters.

I remember one time I was working on a story about a girl who had lost her memory. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going with the story when I started, but I thought I knew a lot about my protagonist. I knew her love interest. I knew where she grew up. I knew many parts of her personality; she was a little timid, a bit needy, but also she could be a force to be reckoned with. I knew something had happened to her to make her lose her memory, but I wasn’t sure what it was until I neared the end of the story.
Once I did, I realized that there was more to her than I had originally thought. I realized that this character was not only someone who had survived one traumatic incident that caused her to lose her memory but that she was a survivor of prolonged sexual abuse. I didn’t know that going in. In fact, I didn’t know that part of her character during the entire first draft. It took finishing the story – rather, it took the story itself – to show me this.

That said, the kernel of this trait was always there in her character: The way she was timid around men was a big sign. The way she always wanted to cover up when she got dressed was another indicator. It wasn’t just her memory loss that was directing her character; it was something else as well. Sexual abuse wasn’t initially something I wanted to write about, but the story led me there, and at the end of the day it all made sense, and this history gave her more backstory and it made her a more complex character. Still, it took an entire draft, understanding the nuances of my larger story, to show me this part of her.

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