Cardboard Characters

Cardboard Characters

Natalie Bright

One of the most difficult tasks for a writer is to create fictional characters that seem real and believable to the reader. I love books in which characters seem to jump off the page and ones that remains in my head long after the book is closed.

Much Like Cardboard

Are your characters more like cardboard; stiff, emotionless, without personality? They have names and faces, but they are just on the surface of your story and nothing more. The solution: dig deeper into your character’s motivation.

As an author, you must torture your characters. It is impossible to reveal deep character feelings and personalities without applying deep, intense pressure. The ways in which they react to that pressue reveals their temperament and psyche.

Using Character Profiles

Complete character profiles on both your protagonist and your antagonist. There are many great example forms available online.

Don’t stop at the name. Create a birthdate, a history of where they were born, family description, dominate characteristics, weaknesses, and physical limitations. Create historical events for your character that might have happened in their life such as school’s name, college, children’s names, etc.

Write A Letter

Many of my author friends write a letter in first person POV from their character. Don’t think; just free write. Let them reveal their secrets, desires, fears, self-image.

This trick worked great for me on the story I am working on now. My main characters are a young mule-skinner and a Comanche brave. I am alternating chapters between their points of view. I want to show the contrast between how very different their worlds are, yet they are both sixteen-year-old boys. They each wrote me a letter about their different worlds. One holds a great hatred for his father, and the other resents the physical limitations he has to live with. Now I have something to build upon and add the conflict. At this point, writing is more fun than work.

Keep moving forward and thanks for following WordsmithSix!



LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS…Or They May Abandon You Forever


      Or They May Abandon You Forever

By Natalie Bright

My novel about a 14 year old boy set in the Texas frontier is a typical coming of age story, which involves him finishing the job of delivering a wagon load of goods after his father died. Ben has a run in with outlaws, is shot by a Comanche arrow, gets lost in the wilderness; just your typical Wild West adventure. The young Comanche brave would not leave me alone. The only thing I could do to get that kid out of my mind was to write key scenes in his viewpoint. I realized I liked him and instead of being my antagonist, the story changed. I inserted Roving Wolf’s scenes where they belonged in the already finished book. I now have two protagonists who become friends.


Here’s what I learned from that experience: you don’t have to write an entire book chapter by chapter in that exact order. For some of us, Point A to Point B is not how our mind works when it comes to creative fiction.

Don’t be afraid to explore those flashes of imagery in your brain. It might be a piece of dialogue. Maybe it’s a minor character that keeps nagging you about a scene you left them out of. It might be a place that flashes in your mind, and then poof, it’s gone again. You know someone was there and something happened, and you have to write it before you learn why that place is important. For me, it’s like an explosion in my head. The imagery of that character is so alive. Sometimes it’s a conversation that seems so vibrant and real, it can’t be ignored.


Some writers say that their characters never talk to them, and usually it shows in their stories. Their characters are flat, lifeless, with no personality. When you take the time to dig into your character’s head and heart, then their personality will become real. When they are real to you, they’ll be real to your readers.


If your book is in 3rd person, rewrite several scenes in 1st person POV. Free write, in your character’s POV, about their childhood, favorite things or people, life experiences, greatest fears. The deeper you dig, their motives, desires, angst will become clearer. That protagonist will begin to tell you even more (truth!). I know, it’s a creepy, strange and glorious experience, so I wouldn’t mention it to your non-writerly friends. I promise, one of your characters will pop into your mind out of and tell you something wonderful. Keep in mind, that the majority of the things you learn about your protagonist and antagonist during this process will not make it into your manuscript. When you’re character is faced with a conflict, you’ll know exactly how he or she will react and that’s what endears them to your readers. We learn more and more as the story progresses.

Don’t be afraid to give your characters the attention they deserve. Allow them to tell you their secrets. Just make sure you’re taking notes.



By Natalie Bright


Creating well-rounded, believable characters.

During a snowy, lazy day of watching The Big Bang Theory marathon, I started thinking about the complex dynamics of characterization. The character traits go deep in this sitcom and play off this group of friends to compliment, define, and often times clash with each other.


I began to write down the character profiles from the television show. This reminded me that well-rounded characters have good traits and bad traits, just like real people. There’s some things we really love about our BFFs, but there are other things that make us cringe. Real people are complicated. Folks have good qualities and bad qualities. They have issues from multifaceted pasts, or habits based on where they spent their childhoods.

Think about this: Real people have deep, dark secrets.

The way to avoid boring, cardboard characters is to make our fictional characters complicated too.

Character Study

Sheldon Cooper:      often times seems very rude

Inappropriate, no filter for what he says

Whiney, immature

We love him because: his endearing quality of a child-like innocence. He trusts his friends, does what his mother says, and loves his MeMaw. She calls him Moonpie because he’s yummy, yummy and she could just eat him up.

I think the characters of The Big Bang Theory are likeable because we can recognize in them the people that we know in real life. For a television series these recognizable traits are taken to the extreme to create believable fictional characters.

Heroes are not absolutely perfect. Give them a physical limitation, deep-burning issues from a past experience, or a personality mannerism that’s far from impeccable.

Villains aren’t all bad. Give them a loveable quality that readers can relate too, but take it to the extreme. Make them leap off the pages of your story. This past weekend I watched Silence of the Lambs again. I had forgotten how powerful that movie is. What makes us like Hannibal Lector? Why are we glad that he escaped prison?

Secrets: your characters must have a few secrets. Whether or not to reveal those secrets in your story is up to you.

Writing Exercise: Profile characters from your favorite TV show or movie.