Friday, January 4, 2013

Help With Character Development

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

385445813_89ad799cfa--paperOne of my favorite ways to learn more about a new character (I always have plenty of new characters since each book has new suspects), is to think about what they’re reading.

Or…if they’re not reading…that says a lot about the characters, too.

What’s the book title?  Why is he reading it? For work?  Because someone pressured him to read it?  Because he thinks he should be reading it?  For pleasure?  What’s the book’s genre?  Is it nonfiction?  Is he reading on an e-reader or a print copy?

There are tons of these types of questions that we can ask ourselves about our characters.  Many times, we just take that bit of insight into the character and don’t need to share our findings with our readers. 

But sometimes we will want to share.  Because readers like picking up on these small clues to a character’s personality, too.  Readers, upon discovering a character casually reading The Visual Guide To Extra Dimensions: Visualizing The Fourth Dimension, Higher-Dimensio​nal Polytopes, And Curved Hypersurfaces will assume that Ralph is smart.  Being told that Ralph is smart is less interesting.

Sometimes characters just pop into our heads, fully-formed. Sometimes they’re amalgams of different people we know. 

And sometimes we have to work on our characters a little bit.

There have been resources over the years that I’ve found particularly helpful for thinking outside the box when creating characters.  I’ve listed these in various past posts, but thought I’d compile a bunch of them here.

Author Stina Lindenblatt in her post “Creating the Non-Stereotypical Character” shared an exercise from author Mary Buckham for character development.  It involved listing stereotypical traits for the main characters’ careers…and mixing the traits from the lists up. 

Writer Cheryl Reif talks about character quirks in her post: Tuesday Ten: Character Quirks .  An old role-playing system by Steve Jackson inspired her approach.

The folks at Inspiration for Writers came up with a useful page to help develop characters…personality components can be particularly useful (toward the bottom of the page.) 

I’m not always a worksheet-oriented writer, but they always help when I do use them.

These worksheets are excellent and are from our friends at the Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing blog (but are useful for all genres):

Character Worksheet Part 1
Character Worksheet Part 2
Character Worksheet Part 3
Character Worksheet Part 4

Janice Hardy in her post “She's Such a Character: Creating Characters,” lists things she wants to know about her characters before she starts writing…and things she looks for as she writes, too.

Writer Kaye Dacus’ series on Creating Credible Characters covers everything from character name creation to character culture, to casting characters.

Hope these links will help.  You can find many more tips on character development at the Writer’s Knowledge Base.

What methods do you use to develop your characters? 

Image: Brian Hogg, MorgueFile