Character Building: Adding Depth to Archetypes

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Writing | 6 comments

Character Building: Adding Depth to Archetypes


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. A great character can make me love what could be considered an average book.

A great plot with boring characters (or even characters that I can’t relate to) likely won’t stick in my memory three months later.



So, how do you make your characters memorable?


You add layers. You add depth. You make them real.

Take this character: She’s a New Adult female settling into a steady career. She’s a type A perfectionist who keeps a rough timeline of where her life should be heading. Her hometown is an one-stoplight town below the Mason-Dixon Line where every girl learns how to shoot a gun by age eight. She’s a sorority girl, owns at least one set of pearls, drinks tea out of a mason jar, cheers for her alma mater even though she doesn’t watch the games, and has an accent that gets thicker when she drinks no matter how long it’s been since she’s been in the South. She believes every woman should always have a sundress and a little black dress ready for emergency wardrobe changes.

Sounds like a stock character, right? How many girls could this be? Would you remember her story a few months from now?


That “stock” character is one of your darling Muses.


How is that possible? Are the Muses stock characters? Nope, we’re real live women (and we’re resisting the urge to break into song right now).

Every person can be broken down in generic statistics. As a writer, it’s up to you to include more than that. If you follow us on Twitter, maybe  you know Muse KJ as the girl who’s always talking about bacon or tripping over things. Maybe you know Muse Jolene as always cheery, always willing to give someone a pep talk, and with a surprising fondness for rap. It’s these details that make us unique.


What makes people real are the little quirks and eccentricities – which is exactly what your characters need. 

How would your opinion change about the above stock character if she had one of the following characteristics or backstory? What if she had all of them?

  • She screams at the TV during MMA rounds.
  • Each morning she does a meditation, and checks her horoscopes before getting out of bed.
  • She moved cross-country by accident, with two pieces of luggage to her name.
  • She’s multiracial. (Remember she’s from the South.)
  • At any Disney property, she can be found wearing a tiara, Snow White bow, or Minnie ears.
  • She takes notes on the embarrassing things she does in her own life to use in her novels.
  • She shocks people at bars by taking tequila shots like a pro – or like a man, as her friends say.
  • If upset, she bakes enough sweets to feed an army…but rarely ever eats them. If happy, she eats them all.
  • Career paths she’s considered in her life: wedding planner, lawyer, pharmacist, and FBI agent.
  • One of her life dreams is to own a Panther Pink Dodge Charger restomod.

Did your opinion change with any of these tidbits of information? Could some of these pieces be used to make a story unique?

Think about some of the people you find interesting. What do you find most memorable about them?

Take that knowledge, and transfer that into your characters. Create a list of ten surprising things about your characters – each layer counts.

Kristen Jett, Kristen Jett author, KristenJett, @KristenJett

PS: If you hate this character, don’t tell me.


  1. Aww, I love this character. :)

    • I find it safe to say that this character loves you too. :)

  2. Oh wow! My thoughts on this character kept changing with the little quirks. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • You’re so welcome Fida! Every layer you can add to a character can make them more realistic, no matter how small it seems!

  3. Yeah, I was wondering where all the bacon references were! ;) Makin’ bacon pancakes! I love that this “character” takes notes about the embarrassing things they do to use in their writing. Sounds like an interesting, and very cool individual. Now I’m waiting for them to write a book about a klutzy wedding planner who gets mistaken for an FBI agent and has to solve a big case before a bomb blows her alma-mater, and her former college crush who teaches there, to smithereens. :)

    Great tips!

    • Let’s at least try to pretend that it’s not entirely obvious which Muse is this character. She does sound fairly entertaining, doesn’t she?


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