Character Development

Character development.  It’s a subject that has consumed hours of workshop time, been the subject of a myriad of books and stumped many a writer.  The hours and publications dedicated to this issue say that it’s important, but how exactly do we do it?

Linda Seger suggests beginning with research.  Karen Wiesner recommends outlining the present, past and future dimensions of a character.  Gabriela Pereira recommends looking at what makes the character relatable along with his internal state and external circumstance. Liane Moriarty, a seven-time international best seller according to Amazon, in an interview with Jessica Strawser said she finds her characters in the process of writing and then goes back to edit the beginning. 

I find that my writing style uses a combination of the above.  I tend to get characters through being exposed to a new world and meeting someone who impresses me within it.  For example, in the novel I’m currently working on, the protagonist was born out of a trip to a slum on the outskirts of Lima, Peru.  I went with a non-profit organization, so I got to play with a lot of kids.  I was impressed by one kid in particular, who, although he lived in a place with no running water, or electricity, he still had a dream of being a pop star.  Although the protagonist of my current story has no interest in performing, what impressed me was a character who still has huge aspirations despite the smallness of her beginnings. 

Out of all of the suggestions above, I was the most impacted by the interview with Moriarty. This is because it changed the way I looked at the writing process. When it comes to writing I tend to be extraordinarily practical. Why spend hours re-editing something because you didn’t start out with a clear vision of your characters? For me, the answer to that question was that no matter how much time I spend on character development before I start a piece, my characters always become the clearest in the process of writing.  

The interview made me realize that some of us have impractical strategies for developing characters and that’s okay because it’s what works. Although some paths to character development seem to be the most concise, they won’t work for everyone. 

That being said, I’m giving a short list of resources for character development that may help different types of writers. (I don’t get anything in return for mentioning the readings below.)

Resource Type of Writer Highlights
Bring Your Fiction to Life Visual Learners, Analytical Writers This book gives clear examples of how to mold a character by considering multiple dimensions.  The author includes plenty of examples and worksheets. Her process is easy to understand.
Kick-Ass Writer Those who like using a short lists of points to consider when developing characters I call this book a triple espresso shot of straightforward points.  The author’s voice is entertaining and encouraging.  He provides a quick list of things that could be considered in developing character.
シナリオの基礎技術 Japanese speakers looking for new things to consider This book is in Japanese only.  It’s one of the best resources I’ve found in Japanese concerning the craft of writing.  The book focuses specifically on screenwriting, but chapter seven hold keys to consider when developing characters.
(No Book At All) Those who have always followed one formula or another to character development and found that nothing really works If you’ve tried a lot of methods and still struggle in developing characters, it might be good to experiment with no formula at all.  Like Moriarty, your best bet could be to start writing and find your character along the way.  This method seems the most impractical, but it could be what works best for you depending on your style.

Is there anything you would add to the list?

References

Wendig, Chuck, The Kick-Ass Writer

Wiesner, Karen; Bring Your Fiction to Life

Pereira, Gabriela; “Unleash Your Storytelling Superpower;” Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018

Seger, Linda; Creating Unforgettable Characters

新井一、シナリオの基礎技術 

Strawser, Jessica; “Liane Moriarty Walking the Line” Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018

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