Most often this happens with new writers or books that have been self-published - lending support to the main reason for finding themselves of the self-published rack with dozens of rejection letters from traditional publishers. I can only imagine the turmoil a publisher goes through reading these cardboard characters, seeing as they make me want to pull my hair out because of the blatant waste and misuse of a great idea.
I'm currently reading such a book now, read another a few weeks ago, and another one a few weeks before that. I'm not sure yet if it's part of some grand conspiracy or if perhaps they have been brought into my life to help me gain a grateful appreciation for the well developed characters I've met in the many stories before them. I suppose it's not ever day we get to understand the misunderstood Mr. Darcy, experience the maturity and growth of Harry Potter or learn to step into greatness like Eragon. Don't even get me started on George R.R. Martin's all-star cast of The Game of Thrones - where I've never met so many characters in all my life in one book and each one of them had their own distinct personality.
The stories I love most are always "character-driven". When I relate to a character, feel what they're feeling and come to care about the outcome (whether for or against - because I LOVE-TO-HATE a great villain), then that is what I call a successful story. I also believe the lack of such characteristics is the reason why these good-concept books with cardboard characters fall by the wayside.
So, for all my writer friends out there, let me give you this little piece of advice. Go back to what you're working on and read the dialogue of all your characters. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they talk the same; use the same words, expressions and exclamations?
- Do they use the same body language in the dialogue tags?
- Do they 'think' the same way as the other characters - or are they different in style, speech and resolve.
- Is everyone as smart as the other characters, have the same values, choose the same options and solve problems in the same manner? Giving them different clothes, hair color and eye color doesn't make them different.
Let your characters develop themselves. Don't force them into a mold of your making, because all you'll get is multiple versions of your conceited self. A true writer doesn't use their gift of writing to reveal themselves through their characters - but has the power to give life, color and fullness to a character of their imagination.
Please, please don't let the next book I pick up be filled with cardboard characters.
Till next time,