Ogres Are Like Onions, and so Are Our Characters

If there’s one scene I remember from Shrek, it’s the one where they’re walking through the onion patch and Shrek says that ogres are like onions. (I mostly remember that because I was amused by the donkey talking about parfaits right afterward.) Why, exactly, are ogres like onions? Well, because they have layers.

Recently, I’ve been trying to get some background info on my Zel novel before I start it, and over the past few days, I’ve been working on my character creation and development.

Now, I’m not one to fill out endless charts of character sheets before I write a novel. In fact, most of my characters’ personalities are exactly the same in each novel due to my lack of planning. Most of my novels also take place in white rooms where I make up the plot as I go along.

Okay, so I’m still making up the plot as I go along, but I have done a lot of world building, and some character development, though Cren refused to cooperate for a little while.

Zel was easy to figure out. She’s a criminal, but not only that, she knows how to lie and manipulate people, showing a different face to everyone she meets in order to gain what she wants. Trying to pinpoint her true personality was a little bit difficult, but after a little bit of backstory planning, I figured out that she’s actually introverted and loves learning. Who knew, right? Frying pans! Who knew, right?

Cren, my other MC, was much, much more stubborn. I couldn’t figure him out for a long time. (Actually, whether or not I’ve figured him out yet is a point left up to debate.) From the two scenes I’d written, as well as the ones I’d imagined in my mind, there were so many different qualities he could have, and I couldn’t figure out which ones he actually was. I wasn’t sure if he could be prejudiced and still be kind. Could he be prideful and still respect other people?

So instead of figuring out who on earth Cren really was, I decided to read my Brandon Sanderson book. (One day, I’m going to have to do a blog post on Sanderson. He’s awesome.) Cren was in the back of my mind while I was reading, and, don’t ask me how, but somehow Words of Radiance made me realize something: people have layers too.

Okay, also don’t ask me how I didn’t figure this out before, but I finally realized that Cren could be all of those things. After all, we’re different around different people. Human beings are so complex. Cren is jealous of others, but still has a good heart, and is honest. He’s confident, maybe overly so, and stubborn, but he will accept that he was wrong after some time to think about it.

I still had to do more thinking, and interview my characters some, before I really figured out who Cren was, but what came first was dispelling my strange belief that characters could only be one thing or the other, not both.

Of course, I still have a long ways to go in learning how to create realistic characters, but this was definitely a learning point for me. My characters don’t have to be onion clones of each other–or of other characters from other books! What a revelation, heh. Now I’m imagining the Clone Wars with onions…

From now on out, I’m going to do better with developing my characters and making them real, layered, and onion-y.