Betty's Tips

Hello, dear readers!  

To those who believe that writing stories is not rocket science, I would say that they are wrong! Like a rocket, a story has many parts that have to work together in order for liftoff. However, the most critical piece that fuels writing are great characters.What readers remember most about a book or a movie wasn’t only the climax or the special effects, but the people who go through a tremendous metamorphosis. We as the audience intimately know boy wizards, aliens from outer space and superheroes that can fly or lift up a five-ton truck with ease.

An important character connects the reader to the story. Seeing the plot occur from a character’s point of view gives the story a whole new meaning. Plot-driven stories are too simple to create a lasting effect, focusing on the events that occur from Point A to Point B. How the character processes what happens is what makes the plot special because the reader gets to know what it is like to be in their shoes. When the protagonists feel like giving up after experiencing a loss or when they are scared as they walk through a haunted house or are crossing the finish line, readers can’t help but feel like they are in the story, in the middle of the action.

Creating a great character is a very intricate process, like creating Frankenstein's monster. The first thing to understand about character-building is makeup that establishes the level of realism on the page. One-dimensional characters is a term commonly found in the dos and don’ts lists of writing. Beginners are warned about using these types of personalities, to avoid them like the plague. There is a good reason for that because they are people in the story that have “little to no emotional depth.” Picture a cardboard cutout of a sports star, flat and unchanging. Always posed for a slam-dunk or landing the triple axel. A one-dimensional character cannot serve as the focus because they never go through personal development, which is the purpose of the main character in every story.

I wouldn’t call one-dimensional characters a poison that badly affects all literature. Every character used in a story has a different level of dimension, providing a variety. After all, a play isn’t just made up of main characters. The extras in the background fill out space to create a realistic world. We all need our butlers, taxi drivers, and fortune tellers. A two-dimensional character, the damsels in distress or the murder victim, react to the plot and a few traits, but not much. Three-dimensional characters are what to strive for in the end, a person who goes through a journey filled with challenges where hopefully they change for the better in the end (or, the worse, whichever you prefer!).

One of the best ways to start developing a three-dimensional character is to create the character profile. A character profile is a list of everything and anything about the character: favorite things, personal traits, family members and friends, ANYTHING! I think these lists are important because they make the character resemble a real person, the little details that make up their personality. It is up to you as the writer to learn about their favorite things, their firsts in life and what they do in the late hours of the evening. Where would we be without our little quirks and preferences? In turn, the character will start to feel like a friend or someone you feel like you’ve known for years!

When thinking about characters and how they mesh with a story is to ask does this character have a purpose to help the scene move forward? Not every scene has to be action-packed, but there should be something to look forward to, another rung on the monkey bars to reach. Scenes aren’t like real life where a whole day drags on forever, nothing extraordinary happens. Something small or something big, it doesn’t matter. The character provides momentum, so the scene doesn’t stall. Ultimately, it will lead to a grander resolution(s).

There are two components to characters that must be present: want vs. need and conflict. A want vs. need complex is the center of their motivations. The want a character possesses is what princesses sing about in a Disney movie. However, the need is something that is deeper than wanting, probably why the desire stirred up in the first place. For example, a man who hustles illegal goods plays the lottery every day. He may say that he wants to make it rich (want) but actually craves freedom (need) from the life he entrapped himself in.

Conflict meanwhile is the obstacle course that the character has to jump, fly and climb through to succeed. Every good character is up against something. The want vs. need will set the story to the appropriate type of conflict. In our previous example, our gambling criminal desperately wants to win the money it will take for him to leave the dark world of crime. This could be a person against self conflict, since he screwed himself over in the first place and will have to figure out an escape plan. Another conflict he might have to conquer is person vs society since some people see illegal trade as a solution to their problems. In short, the want vs. need maps the character's inner core or what they seek in life, while the conflict sets the challenges along the way.

Things like personality and inner essence of a character will change and evolve.  For example, a three-dimensional character is not always “the (insert static label here) one.” They are supposed to be real people, not members of a boy band! Sometimes your character will develop new moods and ideals with the situation at hand. Evolution with a character has many steps that are simple yet strategic. Changes for the character must be set in a realistic timeline, as in don’t rush the story. There must be enough time for decisions and mistakes to be made, along with surprises turning up at the most unexpected moments.

Every character has a secret, something that if revealed could destroy their reputation. Secrets are the suspenseful component of a plot. What does Character A know about Character B? What will happen next? Will our protagonist manage to keep his good name without people finding out he has an addiction to shoplifting (or whatever weird fetish you would like to include)?

As mentioned before, no good character is ever stagnant in their ways. Contradictions make a character more blended and flexible. People can be kind but very stern or compassionate but very picky about who they help or give the time of day. No one is ever one thing; people have many traits that oppose the other.  The question in which attribute do their loyalties lie?

Lastly, every person has vulnerabilities or a weakness. This one thing can keep your character stuck on their journey; bring them down on their knees! The vital question to answer is whether they will let themselves stay down. Will they get back up or submit themselves to their doom?

It is up to you on how to develop characters. Find your methods and choose what works for you. But remember; make sure the person you are writing is someone you care about. If you cannot bring yourself to feel anything for your character, your reader certainly will not.

I wish you all the best of luck in your creativity!

Betty Wryte-Goode

Betty Wryte-Goode is a writer and mother who lives in the Lehigh Valley. Her passions include writing, reading, shopping, gardening, and exploring the internet. Betty is always looking for writing tips, so if you have any you would like to share, please send them to her through our Submissions/Contacts page.

Mixed Up Words of the Month:


Everyone knows that if you are prone, you are lying down, right? 

Well, that's right as far as it goes, but "prone" is more specific than that. It means that you are prostrate--lying face down, on your chest or stomach. 


Many people are even more surprised when they learn that what they've long described as lying prone--lying horizontally on their back, or face up--is actually "supine." 

Adding to the confusion is that "prone" has an additional meaning: being likely to. 

For instance: 
People with narcolepsy are prone to falling asleep without notice. 

(But whether they fall prone or supine is unspecified.)

So why isn't there a word for lying horizontally on one's side? 

Because . . . 
this is English--not logic.