Characters are the people that populate our stories. Without them, all we have is a collection of interestingly described settings with nothing going on. It’s great if you are an artist, but not so much if you’re a writer.
However, simply plopping some fictional people down isn’t enough. That is where Character Development comes in. The Collins English Dictionary defines it as:
“the portrayal of people in a work of fiction in such a way that the reader or audience seems to learn more about them as they develop.”
Pretty simple, right? Well, let’s do a little handy-dandy deconstruction of that definition.
“The portrayal of people in a work of fiction”
Pretty straightforward. You need people in a story in order to create action. People can be humans, aliens, sentient turtles, amorphous blobs, pretty much anything you want to tell the story around.
“In such a way that the reader or audience seems to learn more about them as they develop.”
Again, pretty straightforward because as we experience the story through their eyes, we learn more about them. Therefore, we could conclude that characters should possess a minimum dynamic that allows them to grow and develop as the story develops.
Still with me? Good, because putting my “Mentor” Hat on isn’t the most fun thing. I’d rather be writing. 😉
How do we develop our characters? The first thing, in my opinion, is to plan out who and what they are. There are tons of different techniques to do this that range from writing long in-depth character biographies to starting with basic characteristics (General Physical Characteristics like Height, Weight, etc) before advancing to internal attributes like personality, intelligence, education, occupation, potential internal conflicts, etc).
It’s not enough simply to give them a name. As writers, we are responsible for giving our characters life and if we are really fortunate, the reader will latch on to what we’ve done and adopt our characters as their own companions or friends. James Bond started out as a character in a novel as did Harry Potter and Hermione Granger and we all know how popular these characters became. These are, but three examples and you could find hundreds of memorable characters throughout literature over the years.
I write Character-Based Fiction, which means that my characters’ strengths and weakness take precedence over Plot Events. This also means that I have to invest more into who they are and what they do. It’s a more challenging way to tell stories, but I find it to be more rewarding at the end. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I hope I’ve made the concept a little clearer to understand.
Now get writing. Ever Forward. 🙂