Matryoshka Dolls and Character Development

by Lisa Sledge

Several years ago, my sister-in-law went to Russia. When she came back, she surprised us with one of those Russian nesting dolls. It has nine layers and looks beautiful sitting on top of the book case in our office, right where I can see it.

I had an especially frustrating writing day last Thursday. After pulling at my hair and doing a face plant on my keyboard, I saw the nesting doll. She looked so smug. As pretty as she is, all dolls kind of freak me out. It didn’t help that it was 1am. Stupid things scare me when I’m tired.

So I yanked her off her shelf and disassembled her. Take that, creepy doll.

I took her apart and put her back together at least three times. As I did, my thoughts drifted to my characters.

When I began writing, my MC had only one layer. The rest of him was hollow.

Real people don’t work that way. We’re complicated. Our outer layer, the one easiest to see,  is only the beginning. What’s inside adds beauty and depth to who we are. There are layers of both good and evil—in all of us.

Our job is to sculpt authentic individuals out of words.  As a new writer, I’m struggling with this aspect of my book.

So help me out.

What do you do that helps you discover, understand, and stay true to the layers within your characters?


Here’s a Little about Lisa:

1. I’m working to make my first crappy novel not so crappy anymore so it can get published. I hope.

2. I have five belly buttons. Okay, not really. But I kind of do.

3. I used to think I’d be a doctor. Then I discovered blood makes me pass out. Paper cut kind of bleeding is okay, but please don’t ask me to help if someone’s bones are sticking out or they are gushing blood. Unconscious people aren’t good for much during an emergency.

4. On a slightly related note, the people I fear most are surgeons and those crazy ladies at baby showers who feel they have to tell everyone their most devastating labor and delivery stories. I’ve had two babies and no baby showers.

5. I taught English and remedial reading for three and a half years. Right now, I’m staying home with the kids. I love where I’m at in life and what I’m doing, but once in a while I miss my days as a teacher. My students were hilarious, witty, and sometimes very sad. They were full of unwritten stories. I used to write for them. I still do.
(photo to come) (I hope) (we’ll see) (I’ll have a daughter help me)


Filed under Character

3 responses to “Matryoshka Dolls and Character Development

  1. Reblogged this on Writing of Whitney Danielle and commented:
    This thought about layers and Matryoshka dolls made me think about my own characters and their own layers. I hope I can truly portray that well in my novels.

  2. Paige

    Great analogy and thoughts about character development! One of the things I like to do is play out hypothetical scenarios. I may have a good idea how my book is going to go, but, just hypothetically, what would happen if the MC’s best friend died? Or if the MC were raised differently? Or if the MC got sucked up into a time machine and spit out somewhere else? (sometimes my scenarios get a little crazy…) It’s just an exercise, but I feel like the better I can answer the question, “What would my MC do if…” the better I’m starting to understand his or her layers.

  3. Elizabeth

    I loved this entry! Thanks, Lisa. the fact that you were up at 1:00 am still working on your writing shows the kind of dedication you have for your work. Plus, I love the way you write. I have no doubt you’ll publish that first (not so crappy) story of yours.

    Like Paige, I have pretend scenarios with my charectors. Just in my head. I do this while I go running, or I’m driving. I’ll imagine them in different places, around different people. I’ll watch to see how they react and what they are like. It’s helped me ‘get to know’ my charactors a little more.

    Oh, what crazy people we writers are!


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