10 Ways to Develop Characters…
10 Ways to Develop Characters…
I didn’t used to focus on character development when I wrote. I concentrated on action and cool set pieces. I didn’t used to care if characters were well-developed in the books I read either. But I read a few books where the characters were really strong, and I realised that character development was pretty important.
I wanted to write well-developed characters. Characters who felt real, who you could look up to or imagine being mates with. But I wasn’t sure how to do it. So I read some more. And I learned some more.
Character development is hard to get right—I’m not even sure if I’ve got it right yet, probably not. I didn’t want to develop my characters through exposition/info-dumping or just by their appearances, so I looked at the characters who were well-developed in books and tried to figure out how the authors had done it.
A few of the ways I learned to develop characters are listed below…
Katniss Everdeen is a good example of this. Suzanne Collins sends her into the Hunger Games and we see how she copes with surviving. Her character changes when she’s tested—she becomes harder and more ruthless. Give a character something to work for and they’ll change.
Give them choices to make
Which choices a character makes can also define and change them. Are they willing to sacrifice themselves? Do they put others before themselves? It doesn’t have to be a choice that big either. If a character stays and fights, they’re brave or foolish or both, if they run they’re cowardly or wise or both. Choices can determine character and personality.
See how they cope with physical pain. Does it make them stronger, ormake them give up? Or if it’s emotional hurt, how do they react if they’re family or friends are harmed or taken away? How they react to pain will also determine a character and personality.
Give them friends
Giving a character friends focuses more on shaping a character’s personality. It helps to develop they interact with other people, how they speak to them. You can also play around with how loyal a character is to their friends and what they’re willing to sacrifice/do for them. Does a character care more about their friends than themselves?
Give them enemies
Harry Potter is a good example of how an enemy defines/develops a character. JK Rowling made Harry and Voldemort similar in many ways. At some points we weren’t sure if Harry was turning into Voldemort—this happens literally as the stories progress. Seeing how Harry reacts to this develops his character. At first he’s disgusted, but then he becomes almost like Frodo and the One Ring. Harry craves the memories and power being connected to Voldemort offers. But in the end he doesn’t want to become like Voldemort and he fights against their connection. This shows strength of character, a development of character.
I used to hate writing dialogue. It was always stilted and unnatural. Then I realised that I was trying too hard. Letting dialogue come naturally worked better for me. I looked, listened to how people spoke in real life, and what they spoke about and translated that into my own writing. Dialogue determines a voice, and a voice is an important part of a character. Are they sarcastic, and what does that say about them? Are they blunt or miserable or talkative? Dialogue helps to figure out a character’s personality, and letting it come naturally is the best way to do that.
Does a character have a mental illness, if so how does that affect them? It’s one example, but a mental illness gives you the opportunity to see how a character copes with it, whether it beats them or makes them stronger. It could be something smaller, too. Do they like comic books or cars, do they have a high IQ or a magical power? A quirk can make characters disparate, and that’s a good thing. But just the quirk alone isn’t enough. Play around with how a character deals with their quirk and it may help to develop character.
This is one of the main ways I develop character, and I try not to do it with exposition. Flashbacks work well. Has something happened in the character’s past that set them on the path their on? If someone they loved died, has that stayed with them, does it determine what they’re doing? Are they getting revenge for something in their past, or trying to make up for mistakes they’ve made? Or are they running from their past?
This could tie in with a character’s history. A good example is Katniss Everdeen. Her goal is to take down the capitol and kill President Snow, but it’s also to keep her family safe. This goal runs through the entire Hunger Games series, and the two goals—being both similar and different—define Katniss’s character. She is damaged by the games, but she wants to stay strong so she can achieve her goals and protect her family.
How a character works to achieve their goals also helps to develop them. What lengths will they go to get what they want? Who or what do they sacrifice on the way?
Let them come naturally
This is probably the most important point, because it impacts everything else. I used to try too hard with characters. At one point I listed things about them, but they didn’t seem as real when I started writing about them. Listing their personality traits, appearance etc. can work for some. But I found it limiting. Letting a character come naturally can work. Don’t try to force them.