Writing, Writing Tips

Writing Complex Characters

This entry could alternatively be named: “Why Cat is avoiding editing Roar.”

But I digress. Let’s begin.

cyprustweetToday we’re going to talk about something very near and dear to my heart. What is it that makes a complex character?

Why do we laugh when our favorite characters are happy? Cheer when they win? Cry when they lose? What makes them feel so damn real?

To delve deeper into how we can achieve this as writers, I’ll be using a character I care about very much.


If the Tweets didn’t give it away, I’m talking about Cyprus Reyner. A Whisper from the small city of Lorelyn who meets with Josselyn in Resonance. So, “What makes him so special?” you ask.

One of the feedback questions I ask from fellow authors, fantasy-enthusiasts, and review swaps is: “Who are your favorite characters?” I’m a very character driven writer and, as we talked about in my writing tips, even minor characters have a special place in my heart. Every single person who spent time in the Kingdom of Rhoryn loved Cyprus and Hilde. Without fail. And every single person had something different to say about what they liked about Cyprus.

Hilde, we’ll talk about later.

As soon as we meet Cyprus in TWoR’s second installment, Promise, we see in just a a handful of dialogue that he’s witty, clever, sexy, and intellegent. “Sure, so is every man in a romance setting ever,” you say. Valid point, reader!

But as his character develops further, we see sides of him that keep us wondering where his weak point is. The crack in his armor. Every time we think we see that glimmer of vulnerability, it disappears.

Bringing me to my first point: Treat Backstory like a Delicate Flower

Unless the entire plot of the book is dedicated to the backstory of that specific character (a la Requiem), try not to abandon the main character in favor of shoe-horning in the epic backstory of your side characters. Everyone’s past has a time and a place to appear. Telling Uncle Tom on his 50th birthday that you ran over his dog 10 years ago, would not be the time nor the place for this important backstory. If it’s not pertinant to your main character in that moment, reconsider when would be a great time to reveal it.

Second: Society Shapes Us

“My parents…They’ve always told me to stay away from Whispers,” you remarked as you pulled me closer to you.
I knew what I was. Everyone knew what I was. But you so freely commented on something I’d never been ashamed to be a part of. For a few span of seconds I wondered if I should be.
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” you said, pushing back a strand of hair that fell across my eyes. “You’re quite sweet.”

From the moment we’re able to  read, write, and speak, we begin building our perceptions of the world. At the same time, the world builds perceptions about us. Some things we can’t help, some we choose to defy. No matter the reason or what we decide, these situations will shape who we are as people. Our characters are no different. They’ve grown surrounded by the confines of our worlds: its judgements, freedoms, and harsh realities included. Let that shape them.

Finally: Let Your Characters Feel

This is a surprisingly difficult piece to tackle. The last thing we want to do is hurt our darlings. But, sometimes we must. For the sake of who it eventually turns them into. It’s far easier to let our characters feel numb or nonplussed in brutal situations. But it’s so much harder to let them feel pain.

“Cyprus, I don’t want to leave you,” she sobbed.
“I’ll always be here, I promise.” I barely recognized my own voice. I wanted to cry with her, to tell her that I was lying. I could hardly breathe without her. “This is…This is your chance to fly.”

There will never be a better way to connect with our readers than to lock down on emotions that we’ve all experienced and let our characters feel them. To know what it is to make difficult decisions, to regret them later, and let it build who they are in the future.

Don’t be afraid to try out new scenes or sides of your characters. Everyone has a story that brought them to that point in the grand plot. Let characters make mistakes and learn from them, or have triumphs and falter because of them. When a reader makes an emotional connection with a person we’ve created, that’s when we know we’ve succeeded.

6 thoughts on “Writing Complex Characters

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