Who Are These People? Character Development 101

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So, you have a world and a vague kind of plot, but you have no idea who your performers are. Blank faces and hollow silhouettes cover your pages, and you know you need something more. They have names, appearances, and you picked a fun little quirk for each one. It isn’t enough. Great characters feel like people, so you need to introduce yourself before you write from their points of view.

Dig Through the Trunk

By the time your book is on its way to potential publishers, you should know more about your characters than what you wrote in the first draft. Although many writers like to dive in with relatively short introductions to their cast, you need to stop for a formal meet-and-greet eventually. The second draft offers a marvelous opportunity for just that.

Before you dive into edits, get to know the people you’re writing. Ask what’s in the trunk of their car, when they first fell in love, and where they grew up. Find out where they came from, and how they reached their current predicament. What events shaped them, and what prior character development (that you do NOT need to include in your story) influenced the present? At most, these kinds of things deserve a brief conversation, but more often than not they’re better left in your imagination. You don’t give your friends’ life stories when you’re making introductions, do you?

Establish Relationships

People don’t exist in a vacuum. Even the most antisocial soul has a family and one or two people they regularly interact with. Those daily conversations and rituals do more to define your character than all of their physical possessions combined. Figure out how characters’ lives touch others’. Maybe those peripheral characters will enter into the story and maybe they won’t. If you’re having trouble figuring out a character’s soul, though, you need to look to their connections.

How do they treat people outside the story? Do they offer lots of little white lies? Are they painfully honest? Are they so polite they’re almost cold? How funny are they? Do they want to make people laugh, or is it a natural part of their personality? When in doubt, check their social media.

Motivation is Everything

Every story ultimately boils down to goals and obstacles. At least some of those obstacles should come from the characters themselves. An easy way to do this is put characters at cross purposes. One’s desires necessitate stymieing another’s plans. Sometimes a character is their own worst enemy. Maybe they doubt themselves, or maybe they’re working off of false information. Maybe they can’t get over an old crush, or they aren’t even sure what their primary motivation even is. This leads straight into plot development, of course. Keep in mind, though, that even if you prefer plot-driven stories, that plot needs character desires and frustrations to propel it forward.

Character development is an intimidating term for a pretty simple process. Strong characters will do the hard work of driving your story, and all you have to do is figure out who they are. Remember, most people love to talk about themselves. So, are you ready to meet your characters?

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