The Swirling Vortex of Doom (AKA Character Development)

Remember how I was talking about how very wrong I was in my first few posts?  Yeah, I remember now that there’s something else I wanted to clear up besides how sorry I am – What I wrote about character development.

My methods for getting to know your character?  Sound.  Good enough anyway.

My timeline for getting to know your character?  WRONG.  I made it seem like you had to know everything there is to know about your character before you even start your story!  No no no!  I don’t even think that’s possible.  Even if you have an absolutely super special intimate relationship with your character before you start writing, and you think you know all there is to know, I’m still pretty convinced that something about that character is going to change once you start writing.  And that’s the whole point!  It’s supposed to change!  If your writing isn’t teasing out more and more little things about your character that you didn’t even think about before you started, then maybe you’re not doing it right.  To illustrate this point (literally) I painstakingly drew my character development process for Serrafiel.

First, we have what I knew about the character before I started writing:

Yeah, that’s about it.  So I ask you: Does this look like a fully-developed character?  The answer is no.  So I had that, and then I started writing and, after a chapter or two, I got this:

So there’s a little more.  He’s blonde now, and he has green eyes.  I didn’t know either of those things until I wrote about him looking at himself in the mirror for the first time.  And the talking to owls thing, yeah…decided that one on a whim.  It worked out really well once I got further in the book, which brings me to:

So now I’ve got a pretty well-rounded character.  By now, I’m really into the book, and I know a lot about him.  You may also notice that this picture has a lot more words in it than the first one.  But it’s also important to remember that all of these things I know about him are constantly framed by questions, things I don’t know yet.  So in the next picture, he’s literally framed by questions.

And then you have to remember that all of these questions and personality traits and feelings and words are often linked directly (or indirectly) to other characters in the book.  Which I have also drawn.

Believe it or not, there is some rhyme and reason to the direction of the arrows.  If a question is going to be answered by a character, then the arrow points to them.  If a character caused the question, or the feeling/emotion whatever, then the arrow points from that character to the corresponding word(s).  I mean, that’s not totally important.  This is just supposed to show how incredibly complicated character development is.  In other words, I’m trying to prove without a doubt that I was epically wrong the first time I talked about this.  Oh and we’re not done by the way.  Because you have to remember that all those colored blobs aren’t just blobs, they’re other characters.

And all of those other characters, plus any number of others, need their own swirling mass of words, arrows, and relationships.  They all need to be developed just like I developed Serrafiel.  (Don’t worry, I didn’t draw out their developments, too.  That was the last picture)

In conclusion, you should definitely get to know your character as well as you might know a sibling or close friend, but don’t be afraid to use your writing to help you develop that relationship.

Word of the Day: Nascent (adj) – beginning to exist or develop

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2 Comments

Filed under books, writing

2 responses to “The Swirling Vortex of Doom (AKA Character Development)

  1. Marc Schuster

    So true… We learn about our characters as we continue to write. It’s complicated and knotty, but (when everything works out) fun and exciting as well.

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