Two steps to utilizing voice and persona to repair flat characters

You created a character. You named them and gave them a colorful past as well as lots of fun personality traits. Your character enters your story. . . and suddenly you realize that they have fallen flat.

You are boring. Those personality traits that you have carefully selected will not be shown. Your character goes through the moves of the story and you wonder why this interesting, unique character that you worked so hard on lacks the glitz that you imagined.

2 steps to repair flat characters

Not giving your character a clear voice and personality is a common problem. But there is actually a very simple solution. Here's the secret:


Your character's personality is reflected in how they react to everything outside of them.

Your story is not just about the things your character sees or the events that take place. To convey personality and voice, look carefully at your character's reactions.

Ready to see it in action? There is a simple two step process to using reactions to improve flat characters.

Step 1: decide your character's personality

Let's take the following scenario: your character has arrived on a blind date and is sitting down for the first time and evaluating their date – a middle-aged woman.

Loni was in his forties and had shoulder-length brown hair. She was wearing a blue dress with white flowers and a Gucci handbag. She smiled at me when I sat down. We ordered the house wine and everyone had a glass.

This scene is set, but it doesn't tell the reader anything about your character. Since the story takes place in the first person, your reader is riding inside your character's head and yet they are likely to feel aloof because all they see is what everyone can see – there is a woman sitting at a table , and there is wine.

To make this scene more interesting, think about your character's personality and emotional state at the moment.

Is your character a middle-aged man tired of dating who didn't want to be there? As an older woman, is your character a little nervous but excited on their first date after losing her previous partner years ago?

Is your character someone extravagant who enjoys nightlife and the beautiful things? Is your character a curmudgeon who is more concerned about how much that date is going to cost?

Once you know who your character is, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2: see from your character's eyes

Once you've decided who your character is, you can customize the scene based on their personality.

Let's take the scene from above, initially from the perspective of Character A, a jaded middle-aged man who has been together for a while and has become suspicious of the whole process. He's also tired of spending money on data that doesn't seem to go anywhere.

I slid into my seat across from Loni. She was pretty enough I think. Brown hair, beautiful smile – but I've never met a woman without a beautiful smile, no matter what's behind it. Her dress, a blue layer with white flowers, was modest but fitted well, which told me that she cared enough about her to look good but didn't want to give the impression that the evening could go further than the dining table. As we ordered, I eyed her Gucci handbag and wondered for a moment if, if she could afford such a nice accessory, maybe she should help pay for dinner. At least she ordered the same wine as I did – the cheapest house red.

Do you suddenly find yourself in Character A's eyes and look out?

Let's try another. Character B is a woman who is re-entering the dating world after a long period of singles. She's a little excited, feeling flirtatious, and hoping to find someone to click with. She also has a healthy appreciation for finer things.

I sit down in the chair across from Loni and casually turn my best side – my left side – towards her. She smiles and wow, her teeth are perfect and straight. She asks me about my day and I can't help but see the light glitter in her honey brown hair. The dress she wears is a cute blue piece with white flowers. Did she know my favorite color was blue? I like to think that it was more than a coincidence. It hugs your curves just right. I watch her blush as she looks awkwardly in her handbag – Gucci, so good taste – for a chapstick. She is delightfully nervous and I hope it's up to me. The restaurant's wine selection is a bit poor so let's go red with the house. Maybe I'll take her somewhere nicer for our next date and teach her about good wine.

Now the same scene has become two very different versions, and while nothing is ever said about characters A and B in these passages, the reader has a clear idea of ‚Äč‚Äčtheir personality and mood, all of which depend on how they each date theirs with See Loni.

Show, not tell, a character's personality

As I said above, it boils down to showing off a character's personality:

Your character's personality is reflected in how they react to everything outside of them.

Who is your character Not only their likes and dislikes, but also their perspective, their attitude, their hopes and dreams and fears and worries. What emotional state do you carry with you in a scene? So how are they going to react to the scene?

If you examine these reactions, you will find that your characters are not flat at all, but full 3D people emerging from the side.

Having trouble writing flat characters? What are you doing to fix it? Let us know in the comments.


Select a character from the list below (or create your own):

  • A happy, positive person with a good mood
  • A tired old person who feels gloomy
  • A child who is very confused by adults
  • A person who feels flirtatious and lustful
  • A person who is late and in a hurry

Choose one of the following scenarios (or create your own):

  • A busy train station with too many people
  • A leisurely stroll in the park
  • A strange exploration of an abandoned building
  • A very boring day at work / school
  • A lively family meal

Spend fifteen minutes writing the scene from your character's perspective, focusing on how the place and the people they encounter feel and what they think of each one. Share your scene in the comments and don't forget to leave feedback for your co-writers!

J. D. Edwin

J. D. Edwin