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Can You Do That Again in Normal, Please?

July 22, 2010

Three dimensional characters do not have to be difficult to understand. There just needs to be a lot to understand. There has to be a depth to them that makes them human, not holograms or cartoon characters. The depth that we give characters by molding them into three dimensional people makes them real and full of meaning, but complex characters are a totally different species of being and require a different approach.

We don’t want all of our characters to be so complex that every word is full of hidden meaning. Giving the reader more work will not improve their experience (it won’t necessarily ruin it either, but…). Our book doesn’t need to be a puzzle. However, occasionally a story calls for a complex character, one whose words hold various meanings and can be interpreted differently. Whose actions don’t always correspond with the message we’ve previously sent the reader about their personality. Characters like these are both difficult to understand and create.

But they’re wonderful to read, particularly if they’re the POV character. Whether they are or not, they add suspense to the storyline simply by being relatively unpredictable. The reader will shiver in their seat when a situation presents itself that they think the CC (complex character) will handle badly – or worse, when they have no idea how the CC will react. In a pretty simply way, you’ve added an indispensable nugget of reader apprehension and eagerness that will help propel the story forward and keep the reader turning pages.

Even better is when the CC has not only a complex personality, but a confusing past. You’ve made a story out of a character. When a complex character seems to have a place in your book and you think you can handle the task of creating them, take the opportunity. There are infinite possibilities for a character that unravels as you go, and there’s a greater likelihood that a reader will be intrigued by the mystery that is the CC.

One complex character I’ve run into lately is Will Herondale from Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel. He is a fantastic example of someone who could keep me reading all on his own. I’m constantly surprised by what he does, his sudden change in mood, his odd tendencies, secretive past, and the weird reasons he lies. Every one of these things is enough to keep me reading. Add to them sarcastic and clever comments and a few adorable moments, and you have a character that both intrigues and entertains me. Cassie has done a great job with this CC.

As I said at the beginning, not all books call for a very complex character, but there should always be someone who is difficult to grasp onto. I think it’s important that there be a character who doesn’t quite make sense, isn’t predictable or well known, until the end. However, the complexity of plots very, so the complexity of characters must, too.

In the end, I think that complex characters lend a mystery to any sort of novel, and mystery is something that readers enjoy. Apprehension is fun to feel. If you can integrate suspense into your book, do it.

Do you have a CC in your book? Should you? If so, how complex should they be to fit within the parameters of the story?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2010 2:06 PM

    Can’t agree more with Will’s complex character– and the cliffhanger-ish ending at the end of CA is driving me up the wall. I honestly never knew how he was going to act, unlike a lot of other predictable characters in books I’ve read before. Characters with depth are a ton of fun to read about, as long as they have reasons behind their actions, and not just an extremely inconsistent personality.

  2. July 22, 2010 6:00 PM

    Thanks for the reminder! A lot of time I feel like I’m failing because my MCs are usually pretty straightforward, but it’s true that not all of my characters have to be mysterious. I have a few light versions of CCs…but one of them isn’t finished revealing his secrets to me yet so he may turn out to be full-fledged. šŸ™‚

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