Aspects of Character Part 4: Emotional Depth and Relationships

Knowing who a character is in their own right (appearance, tastes, preferences, and attitude) is not enough to constitute a personality. Creating one person is not enough to create a novel or short story.

If there is only one character present in the story, there are things happening to the character that are beyond their control, which can make for a good story, as long as the character’s reaction to the events say something profound about the character or about human nature. Their emotional depth comes into play here. The extent to which the character feels and how they express their emotions will reveal aspects of their personality such as attitude toward life or even simple things like habits. And to make the story character-driven, the character’s personality is what drives their reactions to the events with which they are presented. Character and plot must reinforce one another.

For example, if the character I created in the previous posts, the extroverted, optimistic, yet arrogant little boy, is the only character in a scene and is presented with an important decision, let’s say he’s lost in the woods and must decide to either walk toward where he thinks he came from or to stand still and call out for help, his personality will dictate his actions. As an optimist and extrovert, he may feel as though people will come to his rescue, and he is comfortable with shouting loudly for attention; therefore, he will stand in one spot and yell for help, though he will probably not break down and cry, even though he is a child. His arrogance will also lead him to believe that someone will come for him when he calls. 

In addition his reaction to being lost, the result of his reaction will also create external, plot-driven tension tension, as well as internal tension. If no one comes when he calls, his personality may either become exacerbated, or it may change when he realizes some profound truth. Dynamic characters must change for a reason, and a good one at that; stubborn characters are more effective than passive ones. They must resist change, and when they do change, the theme of the story will be revealed.

Obviously, there is usually not just a single character present in all scenes of a novel. There are other characters for the main character to interact with to create a plot. The way one character acts toward another and reacts toward what the other has said or done will reveal aspects of both characters just as much as their actions are dictated by their individual personalities. Once again, they should reinforce one another.

The extent to which a character feels comfortable revealing themselves is an important aspect of a story, as well as the extent to which they feel about another character. Because this little boy is an optimistic extrovert, he would be more comfortable expressing his deeper emotions with people than others would. If he is speaking to a highly introverted person, he may feel as though he is not getting much back, and his arrogance may cause him to get angry. If the introvert is sensitive, his anger may cause the introvert to withdraw even more and perhaps cause dislike toward or fear of the extroverted boy. These interactions will both reinforce each character’s individual identity by revealing the way they react to opposition from others, as well as developing relationships with other characters to move the plot along and to give the characters either support or addition opposition.

To sum up, character and plot must reinforce one another, and the characters’ interaction must develop each individual’s presentation to the reader. Relationships and emotional intimacy are just as important to the story, if not more, than an individual character’s identity and desires.Stubborn or resistant characters are more effective than passive ones because if their personality changes over the course of the story, they will say something profound about human nature.

Peace, Aimee