We’re going to do a brief overview of character development today and I think I’m going to devote the months of July and August on creating amazing, dynamic characters that your readers will fall in love with. Forewarning, this is going to be a really long post. I am going over a lot of the things I think are essential, so please bear with me.
So character development. Surprisingly it’s important to a story – I know super shocking information. First off, I’d like to break down some terminology just so we are all on the same page. It’s probably going to make you feel like you’re in junior high again.
- Static Character vs. Dynamic Character: A static character is going to be a character that doesn’t experience any big change throughout a story. A dynamic character is going to change a lot throughout the story. Usually dynamic characters are more interesting as characters. However, I think there can be a case made for static characters being interesting as well. I well-known static character would be Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter. Draco is given multiple chances to change and grow, but he never does and I personally find that interesting. A good dynamic character would be Harry from Harry Potter. Harry grows throughout the novel by changing to suit his circumstances and the lessons he learns from the challenges he faces. The biggest example of this is when he realizes that Snape wasn’t the bad guy that he thought he was. Harry puts aside his prejudices aside and actually remembers Snape’s memory in the end.
- Protagonist vs. Antagonist: the protagonist is the main character or one of the leading characters of your story. The antagonist is the person or thing that is against your protagonist – they’re in direct conflict with each other. Examples: Harry Potter would be the protagonist and Voldemort is the antagonist. Voldemort wants to purify the wizard world and kill Harry, while Harry does not want any of those things. The protagonist is not necessarily a good person. They can be bad people while the antagonist is the good person – this also known as the false protagonist. An example of this would be in Disney’s Frozen, Prince Hans is a seemingly good guy who falls in love with Princess Ana early in the film. He’s later revealed as just wanting to be king and is willing to marry Princess Ana and then kill Queen Elsa to get it.
- Foils: A foil is when a character opposes another character – usually the protagonist – in order to highlight character traits of the other character or protagonist. You can also foil the plot by having a subplot that contrasts with the main plot. A foil is not necessarily the antagonist. With a foil you want to expose your protagonists faults or amp up their better qualities. You can use the foil character to show what would have happened if your protagonist went down a different path. This is something that is used in a lot of literature and often goes unnoticed. A really good example of a more situational type foil, would be the movie 13 Going on 30. The main character is shown what would happen if she gave up her best friend in order to fit in with the popular kids. An example of a character foil, would be Heathcliff and Edgar Linton in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Edgar is more soft spoken, gentle, kind, while Heathcliff is more rough around the edges, loud and brash.
- Internal Conflicts vs. External Conflicts: internal conflict is when the character is grappling with something inside him/herself or a mental illness. Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an excellent example of this. Hamlet struggles with what to do about his uncle and whether he can deal with the consequences of killing his uncle. An external conflict is when the character is dealing with something external to his person. It can be another character or a natural disaster (mud slide, hurricane). An example of this would be in the Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The character of Jack goes savage and tries to kill and bully Ralph and his tribe.
- Internal Motivations vs. External Motivations: internal motivation is when a character wants to do something because it makes them feel good or it’s something they want to do. External motivation is when there are demands or things that they want outside of themselves – think power, money, sex. You need these for your characters! As humans we almost always have a reason for doing something. It’s the same for your character!
- Character Beliefs, Goals and Values: These make up the core of your characters. Every character has them whether they’re the protagonist, antagonist, or the guy who has one line in that one chapter. This gives your character their foundation. This what they value in life (i.e.: family), what the believe in (i.e.: unicorns or the Lock Ness Monster – as Marshall does in How I Met Your Mother), and their goals (i.e.: what they’re working towards or want – so that job they have been working hard for or us writers trying to get published). This helps your character make decisions and stay true to who they are. An example of this would be Desmond T. Doss in the movie Hacksaw Ridge who refused to bear arms and kill anyone in World War II. Desmond stuck to what he believed in and worked against adversity to achieve his goal of becoming a field paramedic in the US Army. He wouldn’t compromise his beliefs and values at all and still managed to achieve his goal. Another note on this, is that usually your values are going to remain constant, your beliefs are sometimes subject to change – but rarely and your goals can change over the course of your story and there is nothing wrong with that.
(This is a link to a literary device site: https://literarydevices.net/ . It’s super helpful when you want some extra examples to what I have given you here and it has definitions for everything.)
Those are your big building blocks for your character. If you put all of those things together then you will have character growth and development – unless you choose to stick with a static character. These things make the character more life like and real to your readers – no matter what genre or world you have set your story in.
Some other points you should remember about your characters:
- People have weaknesses. Literally everything on this planet has a weakness. Even the Death Star in Star Wars had a weakness to it. Your character is going to have a weakness. It’s boring if the character is perfect, which is why I don’t like Superman – he’s too perfect and his only flaw is kinda stupid (everyone seems to have Kryptonite). He doesn’t have to work hard to be successful – to me at least. I know there will be people who disagree with my assessment. Personally, I’d rather read about someone with flaws as well as those good traits. If you want that perfect character with little to no weakness that’s fine – and they can make a really good foil to another character.
- People fail. Your character is going to fail. How they deal with that failure is going to help develop the character and it’s an opportunity for them to grow or not.
- Things change. Whether it is friends, relationships, the weather, etc. Things are always changing. Nothing really stays the same. Your characters are going to change – unless they are static. Again this is going to create an opportunity for your characters to grow and develop.
You need to get to know your character(s). Here are some cheat sheets for you on that:
These are some things to keep in mind as you flesh out your character. Little things about them that help make them more real to you and to your reader.
So how can we keep all of this information straight – especially if you have multiple characters? That depends on your style of writing. I am for the most part a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type writer and I don’t do a lot of planning. However, if I do need some help keeping things straight I will make timelines and family trees to help out. That is the extent of my planning though – for my characters and my plot. I do know that’s not how some of you like to do things, so do whatever works for you. Try different techniques out if you don’t know what type of writer you are or if you just want to try out something new.
Here are some techniques:
- Just write. Don’t think too much about it, but keep that idea of what you want in your mind and let it play itself out.
- Create a loose outline. Know who your characters are and a few things about them. Then just let your imagination take over.
- Create a full-on outline. Detail as much as you want about your character. Know them and your plot inside and out before you put them on paper or your laptop.
- Read some well-established books, articles and blogs for inspiration. On how to write an interesting character or just find some ways to spice your character up. Here’s a Writer’s Digest article to get you started. There are a lot of resources out there for you – like this blog.
- Talk to someone about your character. I love my friends and family. They will let me talk to them about my character(s) for hours. They will point out things I may not have noticed and what they like or don’t like about that character. If you’re lucky enough, talk to an established author and pick their brain for advice.
- Join a writing group. I LOVED this during my university years. They were, and still are, a great bunch of people with a passion for writing. They want to improve their own writing and to help you with yours. They’re a great support base for more than just character development. They can help with everything.
That’s all I’m going to bombard you with for today. I hope this has helped.
One more note though…. I will not be posting a blog post, but a fiction piece of my own design. It’s my birthday next Thursday and I thought I should do something a bit more fun.
Until next week.