Let Them Learn
I wrote about the need for compassion the other day, especially when creating believable characters. I was quite interested in acting for a time, and one of my favorite roles was that of a Nazi. I found him very easy to play. I simply indulged every narcissistic tendency I’d ever known, and there he was. Villains have always been easier for me in this way. I have been so far from perfect in my life that I have a wealth of experience upon which to base my antagonists. Harder for me—in fact, hardest of all—are the love interests of my protagonists.
I am not alone in this. In novel after novel I read, one of the most two-dimensional characters in the story is the hero or heroine’s love interest. This is an understandable problem. When you fall in love with someone, you have probably fallen in love with their strengths. And so for a time that is perhaps all you want to see in that person. Thus, when you create a love interest character, you might slip into drawing someone as they are seen in that surreal moment of love-recognition, or the way only a parent can see their child.
Here are a couple tricks, then, to avoid this. First, try creating the love interest as if he or she were just another character in the story, someone the hero does not love. A sidekick, maybe. Now, hopefully, all the quirks you grant minor characters to make them interesting you can now grant to this love interest.
Another good trick is to imagine this person years after the wedding day. What is she like to wake up to five years into a marriage? What is he like after a difficult day at work? If you can imagine this, you will begin to get a more blooded image of this person.
It is important to remember that all your characters are on a journey, and that journey is driven both by what the characters love most and by what they must learn. What we call a weakness is nothing more than that which must be learned. Take away this need to learn, and the character has nowhere to go.