I Wish to Understand Them

Hello. I, Vision, have some thoughts for you on Character Development.

When you begin a new story, one of the most important things is to develop is your characters. If you do not have good characters, if no one cares about them, then it doesn't matter what amazing adventures and antics you put them through. No one will want to keep reading.

You must get to know your characters. You must understand them so you know how they act and think.

But how do you get to know your characters when, perhaps, you've only just met them?



This is very simple, actually. You do this the same way that you do it when you meet a real person. You ask questions and talk to them. You learn more about them.

"Oh. You mean that I have to fill out those 100-question questionnaires..."

No, not at all.

What I mean to say is that yes, you can do that. But there are other ways to get what you need for the story. And honestly, these might be more enjoyable. (Unless you love filling out those questionnaires. Then please go ahead.)

But before we get into that, what do you actually need for successful character development?

My writing alter-ego recently had the pleasure of attending a writers' conference (Chapter One Con) and listening to author Francesca Zappia (she wrote Made You Up) speak on character development across genres. She said that no matter what genre, you need to know five things for your characters:

  1. Background-- Their history
  2. Skills-- What they can do and are good at doing
  3. Goals-- What do they want to do (things they have to do for the story and the kitten that has nothing to do with the plot)
  4. Motivation-- What keeps them going
  5. Appearance-- What they look like, how they dress (and why they dress like that), facial expressions

Learning these things can last throughout the entire time you're writing and maybe even after all things are written. Don't panic if you don't know absolutely every detail about your characters' lives. You do not need to know every little detail.

So how do you find out what you do need to know?

You start by writing down what you already know. But keep in mind that this is not set in stone. If you write down that your main character's favorite food is pizza but then find out later his favorite food is actually paprikash, because his Hungarian grandmother made it for him when he was a child, that is okay. And characters can have more than one favorite food.

So, you've written everything down and it's not much. Maybe you have almost nothing written down. That's alright. The next thing you do, is fill in some of those blanks with things you want to write. Go ahead and give that character blue eyes. Your character's blue eyes do not need to have a deeper meaning other than you wanted this character to have blue eyes. 

Done? Now, the extra fun. Become a fan of your own writing. 

(Suggestions with asterisks are suggestions Ms. Zappia made)

1. Write fan-fiction.* Put your characters in crazy scenarios. Put them in Narnia or Wonderland. Put them in a murder mystery. A coffee shop. Put them in a "well what if this happened instead of this?". The possibilities are endless and the goal is to find out how they react in these situations. And no one has to read this except you.

2. Draw your characters*. This may help you get a better idea of what your character looks like. Again, no one has to see this except you, so don't worry about your drawing skills. 

3. Put your characters in the Hunger Games. This is a good one to do if you don't know their personalities yet, because THG is dependent on skills and how well a character can fight. Rank your characters from "dead meat" to "victor". And don't worry if your main character is "dead meat"; that just tells you more about them. 

You could also try to figure out which, if any, of your characters could lift Thor's hammer.
4. Personality-based fun. What Pokemon does your character have*? What Hogwarts House are they sorted into*? (I've actually been doing that one for a while and I've discovered that if I don't know what House they'd be in, I don't know them well enough.) And you could do other quizzes online-- what fruit are they, what famous book, etc.  

The main thing to remember about your characters is that, to an extent, everything they do comes back to background. It all should make sense with your character's history, even if the traits are not direct causes of it.


The other thing to remember, like with all writing things, is to have fun. Your goal is to understand your characters. Get to know them. There are no rules and you do not have to do any or all of this before you put pen to paper. And no one has to see how you have developed your characters. This is for you.

With that, I close. 

~Vision


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