Character development

Creating a three dimensional and believable character is one of the toughest hurdles any writer must overcome. It's easy to create a name for your character and then just start to write, but what does that character feel, how does your character act, and what does your character say?

Even the best writer can become frustrated when trying to bring a character to life. The simple fact is, there is no simple trick to creating a character. It's a skill that comes after lots of practice and patience.

I'll give you an example of my own character development. I started writing Rebirth and decided to create the character, Madeline, as a level-headed young woman who would be calm in a crisis and not jump to conclusions. Her appearance started out as being quite ordinary with hair pulled back into a ponytail and minimal or no makeup. It all seemed to fit into the novel, until I reviewed the first few chapters and decided she was not convincing me. If she couldn't convince me, then how could she convince other readers?

So, Madeline had a major makeover. She lost the sensible hair and gained a teased-out eighties hair style. She lost the calm demeanor and gained an over the top and sometimes hysterical nature. She became a big haired, gum chewing, gun wielding, bossy character that used her appearance as a means of asserting her individuality. Some may call her too over the top, but that's what made her suit the novel. If I had kept her in the original mold then the novel would not have worked.

The above example is a rather extreme case of how character development is an organic process, and there are several methods you may choose to follow when creating your own characters. I will outline common methods below.

I prefer to have a loosely designed character biography and then let it evolve as the story progresses. In this way, I feel that the characters are given the opportunity to breathe and decide how they want to act. As a writer, I can direct them in any way I choose, but sometimes I switch off that process and just let myself be the character. The story is their world, not mine, even though I create it.

Other authors may decide to create in depth character biographies even before they begin to write the first paragraph of their story. This is a valid path to follow and can provide you with a concrete character image to work with. I've tried this approach before, and found it didn't work for me. Rather than the characters actions and thoughts flowing freely across the page, I found that they struggled to keep within the guidelines I had constructed for them. While trying to act how I decided they should, they were not permitted freedom to be expressive, or even contradictory (I will discuss how contradiction in characters can be used to your advantage in another blog entry).

You may want to ask a friend for their thoughts about your characters. They may look at things from a different perspective which can assist you with developing believable and likeable characters. But, remember that a character does not have to be likeable, and a character's believability purely depends on the context of your story.

The real lesson to keep in mind when creating characters is that there is no right method, there are only different methods. Experiment and find the method that is more suitable to your writing style and process, and don't be afraid to try something new. Remember, making changes to your characters is not evil. It's a part of the review and editing process.

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