Lately my reading has been all over the map— mysteries, thrillers, historical romances, paranormal, history and more. Setting aside the characters (historical figures) in non-fiction, I’ve found that too may authors introduce characters as a whole. These fictional personae are either entirely external —think one of those inexpensive, hollow, milk chocolate Easter bunnies— or they are hard-packed snowmen (or snowwomen) the same inside and outside.
Neither description suits real people OR their counterparts in fiction. A person has layers —like an onion— that can be peeled gradually over the course of a story, just the way we get to know one another over time. I’ve known many of my friends for decades. Some of these relationships go all the way back to college, high school or even elementary school, you’d think that I’d know everything about my friends, but they are still able to surprise me. And I’m sure I can still surprise them.
In fiction, characters need to have a serious coherence. Readers don’t enjoy characters that act “out of character” and yet…they want enough realism so that characters grow and actions come out of this growth as the story rolls on. That’s where the onion metaphor is useful. One of the books that inspired this post introduced three protagonists as big, fat snowmen without the promise of multiple layers; another author gave the reader an army of hollow bunnies.
Learning from the “mistakes” of other authors is important. Do you have any thoughts on peeling onions to find the dramatis personae to share?