Character Tests

A friend and I were emailing about characters in our fiction. I commented that I have a test for characters in my stories:

Does each significant character have a humanizing internal non-defining characteristic that has nothing to do with the plot?
I apply that to everything from short stories to novels. For the longer works like novels, novellas, etc. I apply a more stringent rule:

Every named character must have a humanizing internal non-defining characteristic that has nothing to do with the main plot nor that character’s primary sub-plot. Primary characters should have multiple such characteristics. Moreover every significant character should have an opportunity to grow or learn or develop or struggle no matter their eventual fate.
By humanizing internal non-defining characteristic, I mean something that the character has emotional investment in, and is potentially interesting to the reader. Because it is non-defining, the characteristic cannot be something related to the character’s role in the story, and definitely something beyond the stereotype or even archetype. For example, a mother must be something more than just a mother.

Some of my protagonists and other important characters, their defining roles, with some of their “extra” characteristics:

  • Charles (some guy with bad dreams): restaurant owner, has sister who is concerned about him, reads mass-market thrillers.
  • Fiona (trying to get home, conflicted): artist, plays tennis, musician, ballroom dancer
  • Allison (on a quest to find a doctor) : ballet dancer, artist
  • David (engineer, purposeless): insecure about his looks, plays harp, ballroom dancer, has auditory processing disorder
  • Stephanie (witch): likes cats, street-smart, curious, plays recorder (badly)
  • Lisa (witch): has an abusive mother, sympathetic ear, intrigued by medical knowledge
  • Grisivren (musician, elf): wonderful calligraphy, likes to teach
  • Paul (army captain): big, people-person, excellent archer (OK that one is useful, but not essential to the plot)
  • John (language expert): womanizer, card-shark

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