I was recently asked if given the opportunity to talk to other writers, especially emerging writers, what I would talk about. The answer was character. Likely, this is because of my natural inclination to look at characters from a psychological point of view. When I work with clients, after some time and honest work, the client becomes a multi-dimensional person. I get to see the shadows, feel the stirrings hidden in the darkness, and finally get to see the person who is hidden behind the pain and fear that has driven them into therapy. Not doing this work would leave me and the client treating symptoms, akin to putting a bandage on a wound rather.
Writing characters for a story is not an easy task. What is said, what is implied, what is left unacknowledged in the dark? A story that is rich in characters is vastly different from a story that is plot focused and the characters are carried along by the plot. Both kinds of stories are valid; there is no purist thinking here on my part. That said, I will continue with looking at story telling that is driven by character more so than plot.
So, how does one get to have complex characters for such stories? I have an idea that comes out of depth psychology and dream work. The idea is to use first person points of view. Take a scene and retell the scene from the protagonist’s voice. If there are other characters in the scene, have each of them say all from their point of view. And then, to get a richness, have the objects in the scene do the same. What emerges will surprise you. With all of those voices heard, the challenge is to retell the scene from the position of an omnipotent 3rd person point of view which allows a deeper mood to emerge, The other voices become the unvoiced depths of the protagonist and richer auxiliary characters either supporting or opposing the protagonist.
Another thought to consider is ensuring that your characters are not amplifying the protagonist without having complex personalities of their own. A suggestion – have a variety of personality types. Some are introverts and some are extroverts. There are sixteen personality types that can be used effectively. For example, there are opposing personality types that are worth learning about, such as INFP-ESTJ, ENFP-ISTJ, INTP-ESFP, and INFJ-ESTP. You can learn about all sixteen personality types here. A second site for more in depth descriptions can be found here.
I offer you these ideas simply in order to have you consider more about your characters. In my opinion, it is not enough to know their favourite colour or other facts, An author needs to know what makes their characters tick. Once you know your characters as complex individuals, the better your characters will connect with your readers.