Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Characters Should be Like Ogres . . . I Mean Onions, by Angela K. Couch

A while back I had a friend read one of my manuscripts--something most of us writers are guilty of. Her main suggestion was “more detail!” She wanted to know the colors and makes and designs of everything in the setting so that she could see it clearly. She said in essence, “Every story has already been told, it’s the details that make this telling of it yours.”

Only one problem. I already thought I had plenty of detail for the setting. The rug in the living room was blue with a flower pattern and had a worn trail across it. I told my readers that much. How much more did they need? I didn’t want to have to start skimming my own book! (Yep, I’m one of those readers.) I didn’t want to bore myself, or my readers, with overly in-depth, detailed setting. But, with details, I still wanted to make the story mine, and only mine.

Then I realized setting is just a tool to evoke the reader’s imagination so your story feels believable, and authentic. What makes the story yours, is your characters. They need to be real. They need to be unique and they need to be like onions. Yes, they should make you cry! Ok, while evoking emotion is a great thing for your characters to do, I am talking about layers. Lots of layers. More layers than your readers will even realize exist.

Recently I took part in a course discussing lies people are often subconsciously convinced of from early childhood. These lies affect their worldview and behavior. The instructor had us conduct detailed interviews with our characters that reached beyond the spectrum of what will ever be mentioned in the novel, but this layer, or many layers, of detail will be perceived and felt by your readers. While the last thing you want bogging down your novel is too much back story, you still need to know the history of your characters’ lives and everything that made them the way they are.

Yesterday, a short story of mine, “Fire in a Storm”, was released in the anthology “Out of the Storm”. When I first wrote my main character, he actually played more of a supporting role and all in all fell flat. My second draft pulled him into the limelight, switching everything to his POV, but still he was just a piece of cardboard—two dimensional. Slowly layers were added, most only hinted at within the 5000 word limit. But it’s all there, under the surface…enough that I am tempted to expand his story into a full novel someday. Knowing who he is, it would be so easy. Of course, then I’d have to get to know the heroine a lot better!

Now I can confidently sit down and pen a story, knowing that even if the plot has been mapped out for the reader, I still have to make my characters real…because people are like snowflakes. There are no two alike.

They are also like onions…the closer you get, the more they make you cry ;) What are some layers you like to add to your characters?

“Fire in a Storm” by Angela K Couch
USSR 1934

“He was secret police and he knew his purpose. Religion was the enemy and God, the deception. Then a glimpse of gold and silver, and the woman who wore it, threatened everything he trusted.”

Angela K Couch is a writer of historical romance from Alberta, Canada. She grew up listening to her father read chapters from his novels and decided young she would follow his path. As a teenager, she began her first novel, evolving from her curiosity about World War II. Her interest has since spread to history in general. Besides writing, Angela has enjoyed training horses, martial arts (having earned her second-degree black belt), painting, spending time in eastern Russia spreading God's love, and finding a wonderful man to start a marriage and a family with. She is now the mother of three sweet munchkins, and still making time to write. You can follow her on,, and


  1. Thanks Sara. Enjoyed your post, Angela. I have recently been checking out my M/Ss for their settings. And like you ahve discovered there's so much more you can add to make them ring true.

  2. So true regarding the setting, Rita. We just have to keep in mind the pace of the story, as well. So much to think about!

  3. You're right. Between the layers needed in memorable characters, a good plot and a "real" is almost enough to bring a writer to tears ;)

  4. Thanks for your reminder re making our characters more real by peeling off those layers and understanding what makes him or her tick, Angela. I wonder if you have had the same experience I have had when, in the midst of writing one of my novels and in the course of conversation with others in some social setting, I have found myself saying 'Oh, ... just did that!' or 'Oh, ... thinks that too!' But then I realise it is a character in my own novel I am referring to!!! So sometimes our characters can become just that bit TOO real!