Eating Away at Characters

As I sat in the dentist’s office as my daughter got her cavities filled, I thought about the types of things eating away at people, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Physically, disease eats away at people. Think cancer or dementia or autoimmune problems. Those things quietly gnaw away at the person, stealing pieces of them as they progress.

Emotionally, everyone has their demons. Jealousy or anger or fear. Sometimes these emotions run unseen, deep underground, eroding the person from within.

Spiritually, people wrestle with feelings of inadequacy, or frustration, or failure. They may feel stuck, or like their dreams are dead. This daily numbing of the spirit can lead to apathy and just going through the motions.

The hidden problems that eat away at people on a daily basis are interesting to apply to characters. We all try and give our characters at least one major flaw, usually one they have to overcome by the end of the story, but I know I don’t often think too deeply beyond that. A smaller, repressed undercurrent running through the whole book layers the character and makes them more authentic.

For instance, suppose your character has always resented how easily their sibling seems to accomplish anything they set out to do, while they struggle and get nowhere. This resentment explode at some inopportune moment in the plot. It’s an extra layer of tension bubbling away under the surface the entire story.

Examining the unseen elements eating away at our characters will add nuance and depth to the characters and the story. Hopefully the story events will clean out and fill these demons gnawing away at the character—just like with my daughter’s cavities.

Comments

  1. What really ratches up the tension, as with the character with a sibling who accomplishes everything easily, is if the sibling lords it over the character and puts him/her down. You’ve got a powder keg of conflict, then. Thanks for a great post.
    Barbara of the Balloons

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