Creating Character Depth by Jami Gray

Flat StanleyLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Jami Gray as she shares with us “Creating Character Depth.” Enjoy!


For all those who have interacted with small humans in the kinder-to-third grade arena, you might be familiar with Flat Stanley (also known in some cases as Flat Lizzy). For those who haven’t had the joy of meeting this illustrious character, a quick introduction.

Flat Stanley or Lizzy is a one dimensional paper doll who is forced to accompany adults into a variety of situations—from board meetings (oh yeah, we’ve done that one) to crashing exotic vacations. Photographic proof is required upon Flat Stanley or Lizzy’s return home, where they are presented for inspection, accompanied by ew’s and ah’s of their many exciting adventures.

You may wonder why I mention these childhood world travelers. Well, because did anyone consider that maybe Stanley and Lizzy didn’t want to attend that board meeting? Maybe traversing the US Postal Service world in an envelope is not something to envy. Did anyone take into account what Stanley and Lizzy really wanted? Maybe Stanley prefers to nestle between the pages of a good story. Maybe Lizzy has no desire to visiting the ocean where the salt water plays havoc on her paper skin. I’m pretty sure no one bothered to ask these two globetrotters what exactly they wanted from their crafted life.

Which brings me to my own creatures of craft—characters.

Do you know what your characters want? What or who they desire? What drives them? Or, are you trying to force them into what you, the almighty story crafter, wants, because that is what the story needs?

Characters are virtual people, and people are never, ever one-dimensional. They are more like the twenty-sided die you use for various gaming adventures.

As a writer who happens to be an avid reader, I enjoy complex and well-developed characters. When I read some of my favorite authors, such as Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Seanan McGuire, and Jennifer Estep, just to name a few, there is a nascent bit of the green-eyed monster for their twenty-sided character development. Each of their characters, whether primary or secondary, are uniquely individual and if we were lucky enough to run into them in the “real world” we’d recognize them in a heartbeat.

When I create characters, I strive to accomplish the same thing. Now, there are tons of character worksheets, psychological profiles, and various other tools you can use to give your character life, but I thought I’d share with you how my journey to discovering character depth started. Hang tight to your GPS, because the wandering path of my mind on this particular question tends not to follow any known map.

Starting point:  Holy crap! I want to be  (Insert preferred author name here) when I grow up. Maybe if I ask, they’ll adopt me, and then because I’m theirs, their creative magic will spill over to me. Like a magical writing potion.

Jumps to:  How much would such a potion cost? What if it requires a sacrifice of some sort? Maybe I’d have to give up chocolate or coffee or (gasp!) both. *shudders*

Sharp left to: Maybe my character should lose someone, it would explain why their personal line of ethics keeps moving. Hmmm, what if their special someone or someones were lost in a spectacularly memorable way? *ponders options*

Quick U-turn to: Oh, wait, what kind of emotional trauma can I inflict on my characters to dress them in such gorgeously realistic personality garments?

Break the speed limit, cover a few miles: How much therapy would most UF characters have to under go before they were considered “normal”?

Scenic Outlook stop: Remember that workshop? You know the one where they talked about character arcs?  Okay, so we need…history, motivators, personality quirks, strengths, weaknesses, lions, tigers and bears…oh my!

Back on highway: Character depth equals making your characters into real people, which is far from easy because every individual personality is made up of a myriad of decisions, behaviors, attitudes, etc.  Their history shapes their decision making process, their biases shape the way they approach a given situation, and their actions determine the reactions of those around them. So I guess that means to give your characters depth, you have to…

Big Exit Sign Ahead:  Give them a foundation from which they get a chance to grow into a person through your story.

My Knight in Slightly Muddy Armor claims I am directly challenged. After plotting out this little tangent, I think I have to agree.  However, I’m really curious, what would you use to create depth for your characters?



Jami GrayJami Gray is the award winning, multi-published author of the Urban Fantasy series, The Kyn Kronicles, and the Paranormal Romantic Suspense series, PSY-IV Teams. Surrounded by Star Wars obsessed males and two female labs moonlighting as the Fur Minxes, she escapes by playing with the voices in her head.

If you want to hunt her down, she can be found lurking around the following cyber locations:






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