An iceberg is a stunning sight, rising high above the water, gleaming boldly in the sunlight. However, there is often much, much more ice below the surface of the water, supporting that which is easily seen.
The iceberg above the surface, visible to those who search, could never exist to the naked eye without that hidden, deeper, often much larger part. The hidden, secret ice is an integral part of the entire iceberg, as important to the whole as the smaller part which is visible.
So it is with the characters in your stories. The reader sees only a small part of the whole while so much more is “hidden” below the surface.
We call it “backstory” or “subtext,” information about the person that both informs and fleshes out the character, giving them veracity and depth. Most of it is below the surface, known only to the writer.
As each character is developed within the context of the plotline and setting, the author must know the underlying layers that makes each character into a real person with dimension and depth.
This knowledge of character is used to inform the development of everything from tone to emotion to reaction. It aids in the development of plot and dialogue. The better the writer knows the character, the easier the writing process becomes.
Reactions within situations become natural, motivations become clear, the thoughts of the character become intrinsic with the personality developed beneath the surface.
This backstory or subtext is revealed within the story through narration, flashback, memory, dialogue and, at times, narrative summary either within the prose, dialogue or memory of any character.
However, most often, the subtext strictly informs the other aspects of the character, much like the hidden, supporting section of the iceberg: beneath the surface, unseen, but supporting every piece that shines in the sunlight.
The author decides how much of the “iceberg” is above the surface. Much of it may be revealed in full, partially or never shown at all.
The backstory may simply become a chronological history of the character that occurs before the story begins.
Developing a well-rounded character will give flaws to your hero and keep your villain from becoming the mustache-twirling, snickering man in black.
In a separate notebook or page, write a full physical description of your character. Name him or her for the personality you wish to develop. For example, the calm young woman may be Kelsey (a safe harbor) or a feisty young man may be Aiden (fiery).
From there, answer basic interview questions for your character. Find standard interview questions online and “interview” your character, writing the answers as if the character were answering. Include “likes” and “dislikes.”
Move on to write about traumatic events in childhood, or times when they were proud of their accomplishments. Include relationships within the family of origin…and currently feelings towards friends, co-workers, the boss, and others.
By taking the time to develop a strong character “under the water,” your character will shine brilliantly “above the surface.”
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