Monday, June 18, 2012

The Four Aspects of Character Development Part 1

(Part 2 is right here.)

Character development is a fiction writing topic that never gets old.  It needs to be touched on again and again, since it is vitally important to a good story.  Without solid characters, you don't have a story at all. 

Character development can be almost completely summed up in four points.  These four areas are backstory, personality, motivation, and interaction.  You need to cover each of these, if you want a well-developed character.  If you're missing even one, or part of one, you character will fall flat.  But if you have each point well covered, chances are your characters will seem lifelike to your readers.  (No, these four points aren't commonly taught in creative writing class.  You might not find another article on the internet that even uses them as the four main points to look for.  That's 'cause I made them up myself.  You're welcome.  Unless they actually are commonly used, in which case, well, you're still welcome.)

1. Backstory
The character's life doesn't begin when the book begins.  The book simply shows a smaller snapshot of the bigger picture of this person's life.  People are shaped by experiences, past emotions, their childhood, etc.  These things affect who they are.  They influence the character's decisions, present emotions, reactions to events, and more.

Your character's backstory may or may not play a prominent role in your story.  For example, in my novel, backstory plays a huge role.  My main character, Davi, had his life turned upside down one night, five years before the book begins.  It's important because it shapes who he is.  It still affects him all throughout the story, and the event had such a big impact on him that it causes him to second guess his decisions, feel unsure of himself, and more. 

On the other hand, your character's backstory may play a less prominent role.  Maybe nothing out of the ordinary or life-changing has ever happened to your character before the book begins.  That's okay, too.  Backstory is no less important in this case, though.  Your character was still shaped by their past, whether it is obvious or not.

Check for backstory: Write a short paragraph about your character's life before your book begins.  What events shaped him/her?  What still affects them today?  What kind of life did they live?   If you can't sum up their past life right away, this is a sign that you need to spend some time fleshing out this character's backstory.  It might be helpful to sit down and write a page or two about your character's past.

2. Personality
Every single person in the entire world has a different personality.  How cool is that?  Your character, too, needs their own defined personality.  Without a personality, your character will be flat and boring.  Personality is a fun one to play with, since you have so many different options.  Give your character a unique way of looking at the world.  Give them a unique set of standards and morals.  Give them opinions and methods of handling conflict and such.  What defines them, as a person? 

Your character's personality will affect everything they do.  Everything.  Their personality will come into play in every choice they make.  If there is no personality, there is no character at all. 

Check for personality: Throw a hypothetical random event at your character.  Say, for example, your character finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her.  How does she react?  How would this reaction be different if the same had happened to her sister/best friend/mother?

If you can tell right away how your character would react in several different situations, you probably have a decent handle on their personality.  You're in trouble if you try this test with different characters and they all have similar reactions.  Also, watch out and make sure your characters aren't just reacting the way you would react. 

I'd highly recommend the Meyers-Briggs test for a good way to get deeper into your character's personality.

Make sure you come back on Friday, when I'll talk about the second two aspects of characters: motivations, and interactions.  Also, I'll list a few resources for help with developing characters.  Stay tuned!
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