2 Tips to Pump Up Flat Characters in Your Story

“Men are not moved by things, but the views they take of them.” —Epitectus

We storytellers want our characters to be interesting, plausible, and memorable. But often our characters come across as one-dimensional.

But with a little work, we can do two things that will inflate our flat characters.

sunset.jpgTo make your plot work, let’s say, three-quarters of the way into your story, your hero needs to remove an engine from an RV and restore a 1970 Chevelle. So right before this event you write: He’d spent many of his teen years working on cars and dreaming of restoring a 1970 Chevelle, so he set to work removing the engine from the old RV’s chassis.

Tips to round out your character. 

1. Layer his dreams and expertizes throughout your story so they don’t seem contrived when the plot suddenly needs them. However, don’t overdo this and slow the story down with many prior events. Your hero might admire a shiny Chevelle early in the story and recall when he worked on cars in high school. Later, a Chevelle in a junkyard might catch his eye. This layering will make your character’s dreams and expertizes more plausible.

2. Understand his passions and the value he sees in things that mean nothing to you. It’s difficult to write an interesting, memorable character if you can’t put your opinions aside and understand what he considers valuable and why. Try interviewing him.

The example below shows what you might need to know to understand your hero’s dreams, expertizes, and values. You wouldn’t employ all the details in your story. You’d simply understand him.

winnie.jpgExample:

In 2007, John and I bought a 1983 Winnebago RV, dubbed it Winnie, and parked it on our land before we built our house. Our youngest son popped the hood, and his eyes lit up. He said the 454 engine was the biggest and one of the rarer engines. His dream 1970 Chevelle was the first model year to have such an engine as an option.

I hadn’t thought about the engine, other than it worked. I cared more about the bed, sinks, and shower. Over the next four years, our son occasionally asked how Winnie’s engine was doing. “Still running,” we’d say.

After we built our house in 2011, our son advised us not to give Winnie away. He said the engine and transmission were valuable. So we put Winnie up for sale on a nearby RV lot.

After a year, it hadn’t sold. We mentioned to our son, we’d be glad if the owner of the RV lot junked Winnie to rid her from our responsibility.

Later, we received a call from our son. He said if we planned to junk Winnie, he’d like to have the engine and transmission. With our happy consent, he:

  • old-chevelle.jpgcalled around until he found a nearby scrape metal place that would take Winnie,
  • purchased a 1970 Chevy Chevelle to put the engine in,
  • ordered original 1970 parts for the Chevelle on eBay,
  • traveled four hours to our house with his family,
  • drove Winnie from the RV lot to the salvage yard, and
  • made the four-hour trip again in his truck the next weekend to get the engine and transmission.

the-engine.jpgWhile I write this, he’s at the salvage yard in 26-degree weather, removing his treasure from Winnie.

My son saw value in something we were ready to trash. He pictured more than an old engine and transmission. He envisioned a rusty Chevelle restored to its original beauty. He grasped the opportunity to make his dream come true. And he enjoyed honoring Winnie’s retirement. I received a deeper understanding of my son’s passion with cars.

What have you done or could do to understand your story character better?

 

How to Transform Your Dream into a Vision and Then into a Reality: Part 2

“Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” —Galatians 6:9

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Last Thursday, we focused on the dream and the vision. Today, I’ll show how I transformed my vision of a church library into a reality.

Treat the execution of your vision as a process.

 1. Get Permissions.

I invited the Director of Education to my home. After serving her lunch, I sat her in an armchair in my library (a prior dream come true). Then using visuals, I presented my vision to replace our tiny, archaic church library with a larger, modern library. She promised to secure the go-ahead and permissions to revamp the abandoned youth room.

I think my success resulted from my preparation and passion.

 2. Do the Research.

  • My dream hatched from experiencing a Christian community library. The librarian gave me a tour and answered my questions for months.
  • I purchased cataloging reference books and read them.
  • My knowledge of Christian publishers helped me populate our shelves with Christian fiction and nonfiction.
  • My son suggested an inexpensive, excellent online cataloging service, LibraryThing.100_1270
  • I learned from long-term church members that hardwood floors lay beneath the soiled carpet.
  • The music director told me where to buy inexpensive area rugs.
  • My sister had a list of children’s books she maintained from her story time ministries.
  •  I gleaned favorite Christian books in various genres from members of a writers’ group who shared such lists on our email loop.

Taking time to listen to people who showed interest in my vision provided my best research.

3. Gather Resources.

  • My husband, my best resource, helped remove layers of soiled carpet and refinish the hardwood floors. He built a desk in the closet, creating the library office.
  • 100_1614The adult Sunday school class housed in the room helped us paint the room.
  • People inside and outside the church donated books.
  • Two like-new armchairs appeared from elsewhere in the church.
  • A gentleman who loved carpentry, built 9 bookcases and donated a child’s table.
  • The pastor moved reference books in his office to the library for everyone to use.
  • The supportive church secretary had a donated computer and Internet access installed in the library office.100_1612
  • The church’s women’s group bought many new books from my children’s list.
  • I sold duplicate donated books to fund new books.

When people saw and heard what I was doing and how I appreciated assistance, they supplied needed resources.

4. Manage the Work.

  • When the time to complete your vision seems endless, re-imagine its benefits and do the next thing. The library was useable in less than a year, but my vision took about two years.
  • When you hit roadblocks, turn to a different task. While I waited months for the room to become available, I set up in another room and cataloged books.

    100_2037
    To donate a children’s book, choose one of these “binders” and purchase the book or place the “binder” and a check in the envelope.
  • When you’re overwhelmed, break jobs into tasks. I had stacks of boxes of books to go through and decide what to reject and what to catalog. I applauded each empty box.
  • When peoples’ ideas threaten the vision, be tactful. Some wanted to use the comfortable library for meetings and Bible studies. When I explained that would prevent people from browsing and checking out books, the church limited extraneous uses.
  • When others’ ideas improve the vision, incorporate them. I reserved a shelf for the women’s reading program books.
  • When people help, let them know they matter. Several appreciated people became champions of the library.

I viewed quitting not an option.

5. Bring closure.IMG_0492

  • During the process, I wrote a library manual, which I used to train my successors.
  • Celebrate. The pastor held a consecration ceremony in our library.

What helped you transform a dream into a reality?

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