Most people have questions about writing a "strong female character", but I'm having the opposite problem. My character is a male in his 30's and is the love interest pining after the unattainable main character, but so far he's just...flat. I want him to be well rounded and interesting, and play a major role in the plot, but he's coming across as the "pretty boy" that doesn't really contribute anything. Do you have any suggestions for creating a male character thats not a cliche or bad trope?
There are a multitude of reasons why a character my end up falling flat, and I can see a few reasons just based on your question why your male, love interest character may not be developing as well as you would like. There are certainly other possibilities as well, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with too many. If these thoughts aren’t working for you, then let me know and we can try again, but for now, here are a few reasons why your character may be flat, and ways that you can help him with that problem.
1. Your character is less a character and more of a category.
I was listening to a story the other day, it might have been on NPR or one of the YouTube news stations I have started watching since the last Presidential election, but they made an interesting point that I had not though about when it comes to political candidates. What they were saying is that sometimes a candidate becomes less of a person and more of a label. So in the case of Hillary Clinton, a lot of the focus of her as a candidate was on the fact that she was a woman. A similar thing happened with Barak Obama. He was the “black candidate” for some people. What this does in the political realm is to remove certain human elements from that person and making it easier to ignore them if you don’t like them already. The same thing can happen for a character. Think about all of those romantic leads that just fall flat. It’s because they have stopped being a living breathing character and have become the “love interest.” But how do you fix this problem without scrapping the character?
1b. Remove the label.
Instead of thinking about your character as the love interest, find ways to think about them as just a character that has a chance to get into a relationship with your main character. What are some of the ways that they connect with each other? What interests do they have in common? What do they not like about each other? Dig deep into the characters and their relationship. (But please do not make them fight just to build the tension and the “will they/won’t they” nonsense.) When you focus on creating a character instead of a love interest, you can often avoid this trap.
Please be aware that when you follow the steps in the previous section, there is a chance that you characters may not mesh as a couple. You can force this to happen, but I would not suggest it.
2. Talk to some people about your character.
When you try to create a character in a vacuum, then you have the risk of missing out on some important details because you are so focused on what you know about the story, that you might miss some of the details that are right in front of you. This may mean that your character is not as flat as you might think. (It also means that he may be even flatter than you originally thought.) How do you find a way to avoid this flatness? Talk to some people about your characters.
2b. How does that look?
There are a few ways that you can do this, but the main goal is to talk about your characters with people that you trust to give you some honest feedback. First, you can hand someone a copy of a scene he is in and ask them for feedback, but that can be difficult to do if you aren’t used to sharing your writing. Next, you could just give the person a description of your character and ask the person if they are interested in knowing more about them. Both of these options can work well if you are willing to put your work out there for others to see. A third option would be to pretend that you character is someone that you just met and talk about them as if they were someone that you actually know. In this scenario, your friends will not know that you are talking about a character and you can see how they feel about them that way.
3. Is your love interest in the “friend zone?”
OK, let me take a moment to say that they “friend zone” is a lie. It’s just something to make yourself feel better when you create an uncomfortable situation with someone that you are interested in. Typically what you get is a guy that tries to invest himself into the life of someone that he likes in order to create a relationship. This may even include doing things for this person that they are interested in regardless of the circumstances or relationship status. Basically, the guy is “putting in his time” until the girl realizes that he is the right one for her because he is always there for her. If things don’t work out, then the guy typically gets offended. This may be a situation where your character is at. A “friend zone” person will often dampen their own personality in order to better match the person that they are interested in. If that is the case with your character, then they would certainly feel flat.
3b. How do you even fix that?
Get your character out of the “zone.” If he is interested in the girl, then he either needs to say something about it or just be her friend. That does not mean that he does things just because she likes them or wants him to tag along. He needs to have his own life and priorities. If you want a well rounded character, then he needs to have times where he just can’t drop everything for her. Better yet, just let them be friends for a while and see when things go.
Hopefully that answered your question. If not let me know.