Rounding Character – Challenging Expectations

Making stereotypical characters more rounded with the addition of contradictory elements

Characters can seem one-dimensional, particularly in the writing of a less experienced author. An easy way to provide depth is by making a character more complicated, conflicted, contradictory. Human traits make fictional characters more believable, because they become more like real people.

For the purposes of my example, I’m going to sketch out a rock guitar player character who can’t stand music on the radio because the presenters talk over it. He enjoys Radio 4, particularly The Archers. And he might not be the narcissistic egomaniac for which others often mistake him.

Character Development: Challenging expectations

Rehearsal over, Tom put his guitar back in its case, reassured by the firm clunk of the catches. Leaving the rest of the guys to pack everything away he pulls his jacket over his shoulder, picks up his guitar and heads for the door. Every time he picked the case up he was surprised by its weight, his slight frame pulled off balance. He tries with every fibre of his being not to show it. Nonchalance and cool being his hallmarks. The calling card of every rock and roll guitar player that has ever lived.

Ollie, Jonno and Ben are left fighting with a rat’s nest of cables, tutting and sighing. Lumping speaker cabinets, mic stands and all the other kit they while Tom is busy being cool.

“I don’t like that guy” grunts Jonno, the exertion of lifting an amp offering the line an accidental, misplaced, emphasis. Ben pushes the sweat-matted hair out of his face, murmuring his agreement.

“I know he’s your cousin Ben, but he’s so busy being a star that being a decent guy just doesn’t occur to him” spits Ollie. “Anyway, let’s get the gear on the van. If we don’t get a shift on he’s gonna have finished all the weed.”

Tom, meanwhile, is sat in the passenger side of the van. Door open, guitar resting against his outstretched leg. Radio 4 plays. Some sort of current affairs show Grandma might enjoy. Notepad in hand, he scrawls a half-formed lyric and a couple of chords. Feeling the need to capture this wisp of an idea before it vanishes, ephemeral, never again to reach conscious mind. He makes a few more notes and tosses the book on top of the dash.

He takes a tin out of the glove box and sets about rolling a joint. Concentrating on his craft. Lovingly building a beautifully tapered stick of jade joy. His focus is broken by the swing of the van doors, and the bounce as gear is loaded into the back. Tom gets out of the van and heads out.

“Don’t worry, we got this’, Ollie pants, heaving a cabinet obviously too heavy for him van-ward. Tom grabs the other side of the cabinet, helping it home. “Don’t be daft mate” he says, carrying on with loading the gear. The guys climb in the van, Jonno in the driver’s seat. He notices the notepad, and picking it up sees a title over the hastily scribbled song – ‘Boys who Sing’. His eyebrows raised to within half an inch of his hairline he hands it to Ben, nodding at the open page. “Look at this…”

That instant a grinning Tom is leaning through the middle of the two front seats from the back, joint in one hand, lighter in the other, and with a quick dig in Jonno’s ribs says “I made you this…”

Have a go yourself

Come up with a character who has several conflicting personality traits, and see how they can make him/ her more real. This approach works with any genre. Come up with a couple of sentences for an outline, then try to write 500 words. Let us know how you get on – leave us a comment or head for Facebook and Twitter if you prefer, as well as our other social media networks from the links in the menu above.