Character DevelopmentJanuary 14, 2019 | Categorised in: Writing Tips
One of the most important parts of every story is its characters; if your audience isn’t invested in them, they cannot be invested in your story. There are some key aspects to every character that help make them well-rounded, interesting, and fully developed beings. Everyone has their own process for developing their characters; each are different and work best depending on how many characters you have. We have our own processes and some tips from others on how to best develop your characters.
Why Character Development is Important
Your characters are telling your story for you. If your characters aren’t fully developed or are unrelatable, your audience is not going to to follow your story. Not everyone is going to be able to fully relate to everything that your character experiences, but the thoughts and emotions your character responds with can make them relatable, still.
For example, not many of us can say that we were mortal enemies with a powerful dark wizard; however, most of us can relate to a sense of not really belonging, and trying to live up to impossible expectations. I’m willing to bet there’s hardly ever been anyone who has been commissioned by a wizard to travel through perilous country to dispose of an all powerful piece of jewelry into an active volcano; but we all can relate to the struggle with putting others before our own self interest and having a goal of doing what is, ultimately, right.
Major questions to answer for your characters can include: What was their childhood like? What is happening in their lives now? What is their goal? How do they get along with other people? How do other people perceive them? How do you want your audience to perceive them? How do they approach conflict?
Knowing the answers to all of those questions will help your readers to better understand and relate to your characters, allowing them to become emotionally invested in your story. In 2012 there was a study conducted that looked at the effects that reading fictional stories had on the reader’s empathy, based on the transportation theory. The study found that empathy was influenced in readers only when they had been emotionally transported by the story.
Never underestimate the power of the written word, and its ability to affect your audience.
Developing Your Characters
A fun exercise to do, especially if you have more than one main character, is to have your characters introduce themselves to you. To do this, get into your character’s head, or have a conversation with them where they answer you back in the first person, and introduce themselves to you. If they’re a type A personality they will be quite eager to give you their full life story, or if they’re more type B they may just tell you a few things that are important to them, or things they want you to know, or they may just refuse to tell you anything; all of those things are still valid and help you to better understand them and how they would react to different situations they may encounter.
It’s become a trend in recent years to have a story told from multiple character’s perspectives. Having a solid understanding of each of your characters can help you decided whose perspective to write certain scenes in, based on how they view things and what aspects of the scene you want the audience to focus on.
If you only have one main character, that exercise might seem excessive. Depending on your writing style – whether or not you outline the entire story, or just figure things out as you go along – it would be good to use as a reference.
Another exercise that some find helpful is filling out a worksheet describing your character. This tends to be basic and less in depth than other methods of character development. For starting on a rough draft, this type of form can be used to get a basic idea of your character, if you have not already given them a full analysis. Here is an example of that type of worksheet I found on Google (there were lots to choose from).
For those who have a “pantser” writing style, letting the story come to you as you write, be aware of character arch developments as opposed to actual changes in a character’s behavior. Without specific experiences to explain a character’s change, it would be confusing, and the audience would consider the action to be out of character. That is why having a reference guide to your character’s backstory would be worth having on hand.
Some authors seem quite insane to people who don’t know what it’s like to have so many people walking around and living their own lives inside of your head. The movie The Man who Invented Christmas comes to mind. If you get stuck, or simply want to have a conversation with your characters to get to know them better (or maybe even get some ideas from them!), you can. The better you know your characters, the truer you can write them, and the more lifelike they will be.
Self-publishingschool.com has a ton of good advice and tips, including a list of twelve steps you can take to develop a well-rounded and lifelike character and some other exercises to do.
Standoutbooks.com has five tips to remember about character development: doing research, not giving away too much information up front, using body language, describing how your character feels and reacts to things around them, and staying away from cliches.
Reedsy.com has a blog post about character development that has some good points and things to consider as well. (However, I do not personally believe that all characters need to have conflict in order to achieve an arch, nor do they need to have an arch at all, it all depends on your story.)
Learning from others around you can also help. Is your character based on a friend, or someone you know? Ask them hypothetical questions to help figure out how your character would react to a certain situation.
As always, Marturia is here to help you with any questions you may have! Check out our website!