Character Development

So, we’ve discussed adding depth to your story, and I mentioned that you should know all there is to know about your characters before you start writing your story. And I was right, as I often am. What follows is a brief introduction to character development.

There’s more to designing and giving life to a character than making up a name. For example, the name Sally Johnson, which you have seen many times, really doesn’t tell you anything more about the character than the fact that she’s a girl. But even that is uncertain. Maybe Sally Johnson is a boy with cruel parents. You never know. So, how do we give Sally Johnson depth? Well, I’ll tell you.

1) Birthday – Always know the birthday of your character, even if it’s never mentioned. It’s a good way to make the character more real for you if not for your readers. If your book isn’t set in a specific year, then don’t specify the year of your character’s birthday. Just say it’s June 15th and leave it at that.

2) Physical Features – What color is your character’s hair? What color are his/her eyes? How tall is he/she? Does he/she have freckles? Does he/she have bad acne? Etceteraetcetera.

3) Background – What are the names of your character’s parents? What do they do for a living? Who are your character’s friends and what are their names? Where does your character live? For that last one, it’s best to write about a place you know, or seriously do your research before writing about a place you’ve never been to before. What grade is your character in? Do they have a job? What are his/her parents’ jobs? Does your character have siblings? If so, what are their names, ages, physical characteristics, etc.? You get the point.

4) Myers-Briggs – So, you think you know your character(s) inside and out? Prove it. Search online for a Myers-Briggs personality test and go through it from your character’s perspective. If you can’t answer each and every question that is offered through the eyes of your character, then you have more work to do. Write down the results, too, or save them on your computer. They might come in handy later. This helps, too, when you are unsure of how your character will react to a certain situation in your story. If you take Batman and drop him in the middle of a group of thugs, he is not going to drop to the ground and suck his thumb. You know that simply because you know Batman. You should know your characters as well as or better than Batman.

Once you have done all this, it is time for the two most important aspects of your character’s development: Quirks and Flaws. These two are not the same thing!

Quirks are what make your character unique, what makes them stand out in a crowd and maybe makes them interesting enough to follow. You could have them always wear mismatched socks, or they might never step on cracks, or they’re extremely addicted to cherry-flavored lollipops. It doesn’t matter, just as long as they have something that makes them unusual and maybe even lovable.

Flaws are the things that make room for the character arc. They are the things that get fixed as the story progresses. If your character does not have flaws, and is perfect in every way, then you have a Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is a character that is loved by all, has no enemies, is smart, attractive, kind, and is often followed around by small woodland creatures. He or she is, in other words, flawless. There is no intrigue with a flawless character. You have to give your reader reasons to follow this person and sympathize with them even though they aren’t perfect. That’s the challenge. An example of a flaw is that a character is stuck-up, spoiled, overconfident, underconfident, or any other number of things. As the story progresses, you should have the character steadily rise above these issues until, in the end, they are not perfect, but are certainly less flawed.

Good luck with that!

Word of the Day: Amiable (adj) – having or showing pleasant, good-natured personal qualities.

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