#WritingTips – Character Growth & Development
I get tons of praise on my characters, whether it’s the depth, immersion, the growth and the way they interact with each other and the worlds I create for them. How do I do it? What am I thinking about and fretting over at every step? I try to be mindful that my characters are my reader’s source, foundation, for interacting with my stories I am sharing so I have to be aware of several things as I work things over.
Once of the first blog post I wrote and workshops I hosted was my methods and thoughts on the matter. It still floors me that I get compliments from that first workshop almost 2-3 years ago. Here’s a snippet from the post, but you can dive into the bigger and more in-depth post on my blog at the link below:
No one can develop anything without first making a character. Each writer has a different methodology for creating them but in the end we all usually can answer the following questions about our main character and some secondary characters:
- What’s their name? (First name only, nickname, full name, aliases, etc.)
- What do they look like? (Hair, eyes, ethnicity, scars, tattoos, outfit, weaponry, etc.)
- How old are they? (Ancient, Old, young, a certain age, etc.)
- Their placement in the world? (Princess, Servant, Farmer, low-class, upper-class, etc.)
- Personal goals and dreams? (Save the world, Save the girl/guy, get rich, run away, etc.)
Even after answering these you may still look at your character and feel they are plain, lacking in depth. It is very common for a character to be referred to as flat if this is the sensation they leave the readers. Proper Character Development needs more than these five core questions in order to create a round character. You should never feel like you have completely described a main or secondary character with just these five elements from above. Instead, I would like for you to add five more questions to your arsenal:
- What consistent behaviours? (Catch phrase, rubs jaw, cracks knuckles, sighing, etc.)
- Dislikes? (Another Character, pet, activity, item, food, working, procrastination, etc.)
- Loves? (Another Character, pet, activity, item, food, working, procrastination, etc.)
- Personality traits? (Introverted, extroverted, outgoing, shy, short-tempered, etc.)
- Flaws & Achievements? (Judgmental, Awards, poor fighter, emotionally scarred, etc.)
We create characters because they help us make our stories and plot more tangible to write and read. For instance, what good is a Romance story without two or more lovers to play out the rollercoaster ride needed to express that there is a love story happening. When you are asked to describe yourself, you don’t start with how you look, but more or less what you like and dislike, you label your personality as “creative” or “bashful”, and a lot of times share achievements and dreams. These are the other side of the fence that is often lacking in a character in order to create strong character development. That is where the terms “flat” or “round” come into play when developing a character for your story and readers.
If someone is calling a character flat, they are saying “hey, this guy feels like a paper cut out.” It seems like a scary statement, and it should be for any writer, but this means your character lacks personality, individuality, depth, and tangible substance! Often we see flat characters for the secondary and tertiary characters in the form of the cookie-cutter servant, merchant, mysterious stranger in a cave with a wooden sword for a small elf boy, the mother giving up her child, and so on. From book-to-book these characters may seem like the same fill-in, and as writers, we can do better! Do your best to make a richer cast of characters but keeping the amount of flat characters as low or non-existent as possible.
Well-developed characters are referred to as round. A round character has life and depth to them, ambitions, likes and dislikes, habits good and bad, goals and motives, and more importantly flesh. Readers will often fall in love with round characters even if they are nothing but the servant or a silly merchant the main character meets once. These characters have memorable presence and that makes the reader fall into the world further and makes it far easier for you to illustrate the plot on a more intimate level.