Multidimensional Character - Success & Secrets - writercize #58

When I open up a novel, I like a character with layers and undertones and some good old-fashioned internal strife.  Give me hope, vulnerability, frustration, insecurity, sadness, relief, deception.  Realistic desires and relationships mixed with slightly exaggerated reactions and behaviors.  Characters who are all good or all bad just don't do it for me - they aren't a challenge to get to know, and I bore easily of them, put down the book, forget why they mattered.

I find that characters I am drawn to in literature would most likely drive me insane in real life; they may be too self-absorbed or conniving or generally screwed up, but I love to escape into their nutty worlds.  Give me a character who's successful with a dark and dirty backstory or a character deemed as a failure by all around them but internally the greatest success there is (Holden Caulfield, Ignatius J. Reilly).

Today's writercize is all about building depth and exposing a character's layers to see straight to the core.

writing exercise:  Take 5-10 minutes to write a short story or character study using the sentence below as your prompt. 

prompt:  To the outside world, everything about Alex screamed success - good looks, supportive family, a plenitude wealth - but beneath the surface ...

You may interpret it any way you wish, and expose the character from any angle (his/her own POV or that of an omniscient narrator or other character in the story).  Feel free to delve into fantasy or sci fi if that's your thing too!  Copy and paste the prompt into the comment section and type away.
Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.
writercizer response:

To the outside world, everything about Alex screamed success - good looks, supportive family, a plenitude of wealth - but beneath the surface lurked a monster that threatened to crumble the facade.  

Every morning for the past nine months, when Alex opened her eyes and surveyed her bedroom, overstated in its Versailles-inspired touches of gold and mirrored accents, she could feel her gut contract and expand, the base of her neck tense up, her fingers bend at a 15 degree angle that wouldn't let up until sleep came again.  It was as if her body refused to accept what her mind had given into long ago - a complete and utter numbing of the senses.  She knew today would be the worst.

Sure, her friends (and admittedly their husbands) admired her physical beauty, stunning thanks to frequent Botox, a bit of lipo here and there, the tanning bed in the guest quarters and the dirty secret that no matter what amount of rigorous exercise she put in, nothing could produce results like a diet of celery, water and diuretics.  They admired her money, which came with the husband and which she generously spent on making sure she and the house looked good as well as around-the-clock help of drivers and trainers, maids and chefs.  They admired her husband, witty at cocktail parties and brutal in the boardroom, a self-made success who attended all the right schools on scholarship and subsequently took networking to a whole new level.  

He also took sleeping around to a whole new level, but that was par for the course in high society.  Boring as all get-out in the bedroom at home, but a piranha between the sheets with various secretaries and floozies around town.  Alex knew it was happening about a year into their marriage, but she chose to allow him to believe she was clueless.  That was what she was expected to do, after all.  Look pretty.  Spend his money appropriately so that everyone knew how much he made.  Make nice with all the other powerful men's wives.  Smile, nod and support him at cocktail parties.  She herself took advantage of the guest house, spent extra time in the "tanning" bed with discreet male guests.  

It was all fair game in their marital game of chess, and she knew how to play her role.  She had no need for a brain; she wasn't expected to converse about anything that wasn't trivial.  Neighborly gossip, the latest Jimmy Choo's, which fundraisers she would attend.  Some of the women rattled on about their children as if they were actually raising them, and not the nannies working 20-hour days, and she always smiled and nodded as though her ears were actually connecting to her brain, which of course they weren't.  She hadn't tuned into a conversation in years.  It hadn't bothered her before, but a lot of things were different now.

The day she discovered she was pregnant, Alex shook.  She couldn't discern her feelings after being numb for so long, so her body tried to tell her to feel something by trembling away.  It wasn't joy; of that she was certain.  Something was not right, but she couldn't put her finger on it.  The thought of bringing a child into this lifeless home of half-thoughts and distant relationships didn't thrill her, but her body's response was trying to tell her something that went deeper than that.  

Just before she drifted off to sleep, Alex had realized what was wrong.  Years before, when they spoke with one another in stories rather than nods and grunts, her husband had admitted to her that one night in college he and his fraternity brothers dared each other to go to the sperm bank and donate a few swimmers for cash and odd bragging rights.  He had done it and received a call the next day that while they appreciated his contribution, his sperm were not fertile, and he should not expect to get paid for any future visits to the bank.  

She may not have remembered the story, but he definitely would if she approached him with her pregnancy.  So, she took care of the problem the way any woman in her situation might; she told her husband and housekeeper she was going away with the girls for a long weekend in wine country, headed straight to the doctor and aborted the baby.  She stayed alone in a hotel to recover for a couple of days afterwards, lounged by the pool, watched trashy tv, trained her mind not to think of it all.

Now it was nine months later.  The baby who would never see the light of day could have been born and had a name and a cry all its own.  Alex' marriage was as intact as it had been for the past several years, perfect and successful on the surface but hollow beneath.  Her body was still smashing and her wallet was full.  But her mind and body were starting to thaw from the years of numbness, fighting back for the memory of the baby, crying out to end the secrets and emptiness that permeated the walls of the house.  

Something was about to change.


  1. Your writing is very visual. Great job!

  2. I absolutely agree that fictional characters need to have depth. Flat characters make for flat stories.

    Oh, and nice sample story. :O)

  3. What's the point in writing a character without any depth? The people who sit in my green room, waiting for their cue, all come with full histories. Those histories don't always get shared, but they are there for me to draw on when I need to understand how a character would react in any given situation. Here's to plump, well-filled out characters :) Nice job on the little tale too :)

  4. Great write...I too like characters with depth...anything else is but boring. (I'm still working on developing my characters' depth).

    I loved your prompt write. You do know how to hook your reader!!

    Cheers, Jenn.

  5. I loved your sample story. It was wonderful!! I also enjoyed your tips on character depth. Well done!


  6. Excellent writing. Now I want to know what happens next...

  7. Good exercise to do. I've been trying to add depth to my characters too.

    I also enjoyed your story. I am imagining how her life is going to change drastically.

    The Write Soil

  8. Love the sample story. Multidimensional characters are a must. Otherwise, I have no investment in the story.

  9. Great story and ideas about character development! For me, this has always been the hardest part about novel writing. I enjoyed this writing challenge. Here's my completion of your prompt:

    To the outside world, everything about Alex screamed success - good looks, supportive family, a plenitude wealth - but beneath the surface was a little boy yearning to reveal his true identity.

    It all started when Scott Peony strutted into Miss Brighten’s eighth grade science class. Alex gaped at Scott’s scruffy black hair, down to his oval green eyes, and even the way Scott had flung his backpack over his right shoulder. Alex tried to resist the attraction but knew, knew at the age of fourteen, he was not like other boys, nor would he ever find true love from a woman.

    This could never be tolerated in his southern Bible belt town, so thus began the lie. He married Ella, climbed to the executive office of Tinton Electronics, and deceived the town with his good looks and the charm of someone who was as straight as the blinds in the executive lounge. But like the blinds, Alex had covered his real world that was straining to shine the light.

  10. This is really good. I'm not good at giving visuals. I seem to lack patience. LOL

  11. Thanks so much everyone! I appreciate the feedback - I do more nonfiction stuff, so stories out of nothing sort of frighten me, but it's always fun to step out of one's comfort zone. ;)

    Tony ... indeed.

    Joyce - thanks so much for giving the prompt a try!!! Great little character study. I love that you made Alex a man too - I was hoping to see a story with a male Alex.

  12. A good story can take us places we otherwise would never venture into. I like your style!


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