Shameless Characters and Those Who Love Them (Laurie Faria Stolarz)

The topic this month is character. What role does character play with respect to writing fiction? Which is more important in a story: character or plot? Does every story need strong, compelling three-dimensional characters? 


So many questions.


My take, for whatever it’s worth…


Do I think that every story must have a fully fleshed-out three-dimensional character? No. I don’t, which may be an unpopular opinion. But, let’s face it, some readers – sometimes (not all; it depends on one’s mood) – just want a somewhat easy-breasy/mindless diversion. They want fun reading, or a quick escape, or an exciting adventure… They don’t need characters that have a long, complex, and mapped-out backstory. 


Think TV and movies too. The Hallmark Channel at Christmas is clearly doing something right. Viewers love the simplicity of such stories, the easy escape, the lack of complexity that might come with a more well-rounded character. 


And, there’s nothing wrong with that, at least not as far as I’m concerned. Such stories provide a fun diversion, and there’s definitely an audience. I’ve read stories like this (and watched them as well). And, I’ve written stories like this (and they’ve sold and found an audience). No shame necessary.


But, for other stories – those that carry more personal meaning for us, as authors, character is more key. When I’m writing one of these stories, I almost sink into my own form of method acting.  For those not familiar, method acting is an approach to playing a role. The actor seeks to identify, so thoroughly and completely, with a character as to almost lose his own identity. Method actors try to relate their own real-life experiences with those of the character. 


While writing one of these character-driven stories, I don’t tend to lose myself, per se; however, I do spend a lot of time sinking into the character’s mindset and psychology. I ask myself questions. What would the character do? How would they feel? Why do they behave the way they do? What happened in their childhood, with their parents, because of their siblings, during elementary school, as a toddler…to make them behave the way they are in the present-day action? Why do they have the friends they do (or not)? Why do they fear the things they do? Why do they want the things they want? Why have they subconsciously chosen their opponent or antagonist? What is it they need to learn and why? 


I spend a lot of time asking myself these questions and more. I’ll ask these questions throughout my day, and I’ll journal as the character, trying to figure things out. Like method actors, I’ll also try to draw parallels between my own life’s experiences in an effort to understand the character more.


And I’ll research. I’ll read the memoirs of real-life people with similar backgrounds. I’ll also interview those who’ve experienced something similar. I try to explore the character from all angles in an effort to produce authentic writing that does the character justice. 


Sometimes it’s enough. Other times, I’ll look back and think I needed to sink in a little deeper.


And, still other times, it’s fun to write a mindless Christmas story.


Some of my favorite method actors:  Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Al Pacino, Nick Cage, Michelle Williams.


  1. I LOVE the idea of journaling as the character.

  2. Well said. Going back and forth from thin to deep in terms of characters is fun, but challenging. You got me thinking about real life people. How much depth is there in each of those we know?


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