Character Development for Dynamic Fiction
Too many books these days—even the popular, bestselling ones—seem to forget one of the most crucial aspects of fiction writing: character development.
Many writers (I’d go so far as to say most, in this age of self-publishing and no- editing madness) don’t even bother to try to make their characters’ voices and personalities seem different. In the end, all characters end up stiff, unrealistic, one-dimensional.
In case you haven’t noticed, people in the real world are different. They look different, speak differently, have different goals and dreams and plans. Difference is what makes us human—and special. And the same is true for your fictional characters.
Even if you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, no-advance-planning kind of writer, it never hurts to do at least a little bit of prep work when it comes to character development. Trust me—your characters will thank you. And after all, don’t they deserve to have lives (and personalities) of their own?
So before you write, always do a brief (or thorough) character study. That is, think about who your characters are, what they want, how they act. It’s really not all that difficult.
In fact, the strangest part of this wooden-character phenomenon that’s going on in fiction today is this little secret: It’s incredibly easy to write believable, unique fictional characters, using just a few simple tips.
Before you begin to write, just ask yourself the following questions (and, of course, answer them—in detail):
What does your character look like?
Picture the character in your mind. What does he or she look like? Imagine it all: eye color, hair color and style, skin tone, height, weight.
But go beyond the physical. Ask yourself what kind of gestures your character uses. What are his mannerisms? Does she move her hands when she talks? Does he walk with a limp or does she bite her lips a lot?
Everyone has physical idiosyncrasies that make them stand out from the crowd. How else do you think you can spot your husband, from the back, in a crowded train station? There’s something unique about the way we all move, the way we hold ourselves. Find out what’s unique about your character’s physical appearance and incorporate it into your writing.
It may seem like work, even like a bit of overkill, to plan ahead so much. But later—on one of those terrible days when you can’t think of the next line or even the next word or syllable—you’ll realize that your character studies are kind of like free material. You can pull out some of these details and be back into the thick of things before the writer’s block has a chance to take hold. Really—it works!
What does your character sound like?
Put the character into a conversation and listen to his voice in your head. Does she have an accent? Is it regional? Is he educated? Young? Old? Crass? Cultured?
My favorite tip for making different characters sound unique is this incredibly easy one:
Ask yourself what your character’s favorite word is. And then have her use it. A lot.
It may sound simplistic, but it works. Just listen to the voice. Is your character a retro-1980s Valley Girl or a modern-day teenager (some things never change!) who says the word like way too much? Is he a grumpy grampa who says things like young’uns?
Everybody—consciously or not—has a catch phrase or two. (Mine is the word literally. I overuse it to no end, and I can’t make myself stop.) Find out what your character’s catch phrase is and use it often to give him or her an entirely unique voice.
How does your character behave?
You can use your imagination alone for this one, or you can take the easy way out and get some help. There are plenty of character development books and worksheets out there. We even have one here at Blydyn Square Books that’s free to use.
I personally love Eric Maisel’s book What Would Your Character Do? It gives you scenarios and you just imagine your character in each of them, then write out what happens.
Making the effort to put your imaginary characters through a few (or even a lot of) scenarios can really bring your characters to life in your mind—and from there, it’s pretty easy to take them right to the page. It may seem like a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it. And didn’t your mom ever tell you that anything worth doing is worth doing right?
So develop your characters. They deserve it, and so do the people who are eventually going to be reading about them.