When I first began writing to become published, I wrote what is called; character driven stories. I knew that wasn’t enough, so I began taking classes on plot, but also on developing stronger, and more appealing characters. I have shelves of books on both, and I’ve discovered, together, not separate, they make a great book.
It doesn’t stop me from falling in love with my characters though. I love to create them. I spend weeks developing them using long questionnaires, I find their Enneagram number and will often chart them on a Myers-Briggs chart. I know more about them then most of my friends. First I develop them, their DOB, did they grew up in the country, or city, their names, family, culture and then I learn their quirks, their likes and dislikes from what they eat, drink just about everything they can or won’t do, where they went to school, how they did in school, how they relate to people, even their bad habits. The list is detailed, but I know how they will react at a particular moment. This also helps me audition certain characters for each other. It has taken almost a year to find the right character for my male protagonist in the third book in the series, Big Sky Siren.
Does all this come out in my writing? Yes and no. Now you are saying, “Linda, it can only be one way or another.” I believe it can be both. I’m not going to write every detail about them. I have about ten pages, single spaced on each character. But they will behave in a certain way, and that way will come from who their inner souls are. They will develop and grow, they will overcome their fatal flaw (that will be another post), but they have a uniqueness that they presented to me when I asked them all those questions. Even when they overcome that fatal flaw, or not if they are the antagonist, they are fundamentally the same.
In my first book, Tony, the male protagonist (hero) was a macho, quiet, guy. A loner who accepted that. In time he learned he could share his life with someone else, but he didn’t change so much that he became different than who he was when I started writing his character. He is still quiet, still lives simple, is happier at home with his family, is still relatively macho and he still hates bugs. He learned he could share his life, but he didn’t change who he was. Keeva, the female protagonist (heroine), believed through her selfishness she had caused her parents death, and if she focused on anything that was all about her, such as a relationship, and doesn’t become a successful person, she would fail to redeem herself, and become something more than a spoiled young adult. In time, she discovered she could have both, giving herself to Tony did not stop her from being successful. If anything, they both discovered sharing their lives made them better people, not less.
Something I come across is characters who, well, act out of character. It happens a lot with the female protagonist and it is distracting. If you have this strong, independent heroine, why do they suddenly become all meek and afraid when the bad guy shows up? It is out of character. The situation might put them at a disadvantage, but they can’t become an instant bimbo. Even if they are stuck, let us at least know what they are thinking, or show them doing something smart.
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy overcomes her fatal flaw, prejudice, and Mr. Darcy overcomes his proudness, but right up until the end of the book, it is Jane’s persistence, part of who Jane is, that encourages Lady Catherine to relent and visit Pemberly. Jane’s manners, her way of speaking, her outspokenness, never change. Though she had removed some of her prejudice, or at least acknowledged it could be blinding, she stayed true to her character. She didn’t become mean, or snub Mr. Darcy’s aunt, no, she was the same strong willed, yet kind, Lizzy who was determined to bring his Aunt around. I love how Darcy, though he acknowledged he had been to proud to give Lizzy a closer look at their first meeting, or accepting her wacky family, in his second proposal, asked her to marry him in such a formal peculiar way. He didn’t become some lovesick gushy puppy. Nope, I will quote one of the most unromantic proposals. Yet, because we love Mr. Darcy, we find it so sweet coming from him. I am particular to Colin Firth’s portrayal because the adaption, and his character are the closest to the book. Here is that proposal: “You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once.” He is so demanding! Then he continues: “My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.” Yes he is not too proud for Lizzy, but he still can’t help being an arrogant ass!
So if your character’s temperament is sweet, or gentle, don’t throw in an instant tempertandrum, or visa verse. Yes, by all means, your protagonist must get over their fatal flaw, but if you know them deeply as a person, they don’t change who they are. Who they are is probably why they want to get over that fatal flaw. So help them along the way, but keep them consistent.