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Creating Complex Characters #2

Why did he do it?  His father hit him.  Why did he lie?  We all saw it.  He was scared.  His eyes begged us for help.  But he lied, and the police left… left him there to endure it again.

The next day at the bus stop, he shoved another kid.  He grinned and laughed with his friends, but the laughter never reached his eyes.  Normally, I intervened.  I stopped him from hurting other kids, but today I wasn’t a participant in this story.  I was an observer, an analyzer.  I wanted to understand his motivation for his actions.

This is our job as writers, to fully understand our characters, even if most of what we know about our characters never reaches the page.  The boy may truly love his father, and this is the reason for his silence.  He may have been too afraid to speak up, the classic issue for victims.  Or perhaps he worried for his mother, who would stay with the man, even if he were taken away.  The reader may never learn his reasons, but the author should understand them.

He shifted in his chair, always the last to complete every assignment.  His brows are drawn low over his dark eyes, and I’m surprised by the feeling of pity that coursed through me.  Pity?  I used to enjoy watching him struggle in class.  I used to think, ha, that’s what happens to bullies.  But now, I long to help him, to ease away the stress of this multiplication test, so his life is just a little bit easier.

Who are we learning about here?  The narrator, or main character, is being revealed just as much as the bully is, through her reactions to him.  Remember that authors don’t need to spend all their time describing their characters, hand-feeding information to the readers.  This does both your reader and your characters an injustice.  Your readers should learn about the characters just as they move through the plot, discovering more about them by the ways they react to different characters and different situations.

Creating complex characters is not an option if you want to write a truly remarkable book, because creating a complex character means that you are creating someone real for your readers to root for.

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