How do some characters come to life on the page while others fall flat? Well-written protagonists and antagonists have layers of traits that give depth to their personalities. Qualities that the reader can relate to and either empathize with or despise.
The traits are individual and/or inherited characteristics, which combined, makes them unique from all others in the novel. Individual characteristics are qualities that distinguish somebody. These facets appear in their actions, dialogue, and thoughts. Inherited characteristics are traits genetically determined.
Everyone has an inherent quality that he or she hides from the public. The reader learns the protagonist’s inner thoughts and fears as the story unfolds. By adding an internal personality flaw, it creates a more believable character to produce empathy.
For example, Prince Charming’s individual characteristics are that he is a good man, strong and loyal. His inherited traits are that he has thick hair, blue eyes, and a cleft chin, carried from his regal family. Charming's character flaw is his blind-faith in good over evil, and love conquering all. Emphatic facets romance readers look for in their heroes.
Just as every protagonist has a flaw, the antagonist needs a redeemable quality. It allows misdirected empathy and creates another character facet, lending compassion, understanding, and commiseration to some of the vilest of villains. Hannibal Lecter is cruel and manipulative, but he has a brilliant mind. Clarice Starling inevitably succumbs to his intelligence. In “Snow White,” the Evil Queen is conniving and vain, but she is unloved. An empathic trait few men could resist in the original fairytale.
By revealing a character’s strengths and weaknesses in layers throughout the story arc, the reader’s emotions fuel them to finish the novel. Great characters compel them to read the series.
I hope this craft tidbit helps you reach that “Ah ha” moment on creating dynamic characters. Happy Writing~Diane