The Writing Craft – Character Development
It’s been a while since I last shared a blog post about writing, so I thought I’d do one today about character development.
This is quite handy timing, as I am about to start thinking properly about prep for NaNoWriMo (affectionally named by participants as Preptober). If you’ve somehow not heard me talk about Nano before, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and it is an organisation inviting writers to try to have a 50K novel written in 30 days.
The characters, for me, are probably the most important aspects of a novel. I usually come up with the characters first, then play around putting them in different settings and think about what might happen to them in the plot. For example, the character of Daniel – the main character for my historical fiction series – has been in my head since I was 7 years old. It was making his character up (based on a knight Lego set my brother got) that plot ideas then came into my mind.
For me, the character probably comes before anything else, even a fast action plot. If I’m not gripped by a character, I might not be interested, no matter how many car chases or explosions! In fact, I’m likely to prefer to well-developed characters having an honest conversation to a fast, exciting plot with no character development.
So, what makes a good character? How do you go about developing a character?
Not that I’m an expert by any means, but here are a 5 tips that could be helpful:
1. Characters are complex, like people.
Give your characters depth. They should have likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, things they are passionate about. Ask yourself questions about them to try to get a handle on who they really are.
Try to avoid one-dimensional character or cliches. For example, it isn’t bad to show stereotypically strong characters as vulnerable, or a hero who has an ethical dilemma. This is especially true of the protagonist (main character who moves the story along) as the protagonist isn’t necessarily the ‘good’ character!
Or, for example, it’s okay to show that a character doesn’t know everything, or hasn’t got everything figured out. One of my favourite books recently has been a Dark Ages trilogy (you can check out my review in this blog post). What really stood out for me was the journey that Lena, the main character, went through. You really saw her forced to adapt the world she thought she knew and she in turn had to change with it. The author wasn’t shy at all in showing that Lena wasn’t a superhero who adapted immediately, but it took real grit, growth and vulnerability on Lena’s part.
2. Make them distinctive
This can be anything, really, whether it’s an unusual hobby, a unique physical description, or something from their past. Also, hardly any characters will exist in a vacuum. Even if you only write about one character in a monologue piece, doubtless they will refer to other people. I’d recommend giving your secondary characters (SCs) time and space to have a voice in their own right. I often feel like my SCs steal the limelight away from Daniel – even ones who haven’t featured as much before.
For example, in my 3rd historical fiction novel which I’m editing at the moment, one of my favourite scenes is when Daniel embarks on a quest. He has to trust the help of a former ally, but he isn’t sure at all he can trust them. Then there’s a background twist of this character (which came to me as I was editing, which was a fun moment!) which makes their relationship to my MC more complicated than ever. Even though this SC has featured far less than some of my other characters, they have become one of my favourites because of the conflicted loyalties. Which brings me on to my next tip!
Oh, before I do – try to avoid tropes here too. Like, for example, best friends don’t necessarily need to become lovers! Although I suppose they do if you’re writing romance. 😉
3. Add real conflict
Like with any plot, characters will probably need conflict as they go along. It’s part of human nature for relationships to be messy, after all. It might be a group of friends that fall out, or it might be conflict with the antagonist (who might not necessarily be the villain, by the way, or even a character – but that’s for another topic another day!).
With my above example of two characters having a cup of tea, you probably wouldn’t stay reading very long if all they discussed was the weather or what they had for breakfast that morning (unless you were hungry and the breakfast was a rather glorious feast!). If, however, the two characters are a best friends and one is confiding a secret to the other about a difficult situation, or they are a couple having an argument about something – readers are more likely to be hooked and keep on reading.
4. Pause the action
This really is a personal preference, but I much prefer a little bit of characters giving reflection as they go along. In a fast paced action or thriller novel, it’s okay to pause for a moment to give your characters time to breathe or see how they are coping, even if it’s a paragraph of a character looking out of a car window and reflecting on what’s happened to them as the landscape rolls past.
5. Give them resolution
We normally talk about resolution in terms of plot, but I think characters need closure too. What’s happened to them and their goals since the beginning of the story? How has their perspective changed? Have their views and passions gotten more entrenched, or has their worldview changed? I love it when an author gives time and space at the end of a novel to reflect on the character’s journey and give a glimpse as to how their life might continue. It’s why I’m not necessarily against epilogues! 🙂
So, those are a few tips which will hopefully help you think about character development, or if you’re not a writer (why not give it a go? 😉 ) give you a glimpse into the process.
One last thing before I go – I’m hoping this will be the last blog post I send from my current website! I’ve loved using my free site with Wix so far, but the time has come for a change. I want to do more with my website and I’ve decided to move to a new home. I’ve bought a new domain today with namecheap and I’m hoping to convert this site to wordpress so I can transfer all my content over there. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, I still don’t really, ha.
Anyway, if all goes well I’ll be blogging next week from my new site!
Till next time,