Hulk Smash!

This one’s going to be a short one, folks, because my methods for developing characters are reasonably simple, albeit brutal:

  1. Take a Ken/Barbie Doll. This is your character template.
  2. Smash it multiple times with a hammer. This is your new and improved character template.
  3. Describe the physical/emotional damage you have inflicted.
  4. Explore how Ken/Barbie tries to put themselves back together.
  5. Throw still-mostly-broken Ken/Barbie down the stairs, then set them on fire.
  6. Rinse and repeat.

The End

Well, no, not really. I am a writer. I can elaborate just a little bit more than that, I guess.

Physical Characteristics

Much like my approach to scenes, I believe that less is more when it comes to describing my characters. Physical characteristics are generally ignored unless they’re particularly distinct (ala the result of a hammer smash) or affect the action in a scene. For instance, I may have a meek character huddling in the corner hiding her face behind her long hair. Or perhaps my brash protagonist brandishes his livid facial scars as he stares down the bad guys. The only details I provide for my reader are the ones that differentiate a character from the generic norm. Everything else is left for the reader’s mind to fill in for themselves.

Behavioral Characteristics

The key word here is “Damage.” It’s even more important when tackling behavioral characteristics than addressing physical features. Flaws are interesting. The more glaring the flaw, the more interesting the character. I tend to overemphasize key personality defects and play them up. I like my characters to fit recognizable archetypes, at least initially. Readers can then easily frame the characters in their mind and feel like they know them and what to expect from them.

This, of course, is merely a lure. A clever ruse. The truly interesting character is one that surprises the reader without acting completely out of context. An interesting character possesses a deeper layer, running cross-hatched to the shallow surface behaviors that were originally presented. The blending of the stereotypical with the unpredictable makes for memorable, believable characters. The trick is making sure both layers still play out in a believable way.


Every character should have the opportunity to change during the story. The main characters should be forced to change, whether for better or worse. It’s their journey that propels the reader through the story. So in addition to crosshatching shallow archetypes with deeper troubles, I try my best to interject a strong counter-current for each main character, forcing them to reevaluate their worldview during the story and adjust accordingly. Sometimes the counter-current is simple, like unrequited love. Sometimes it’s bigger, like, “You just invented a technology that’s going to destroy mankind. Good luck with the guilt.” Usually it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s my hammer, and I wield it with brutal efficiency.

Final Thoughts

When in doubt as to how to make a character more interesting for the audience, think “Hulk Smash!” You can’t go wrong.

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