I have read lots of articles about how to develop a character, but they never seem to discuss what happens when the characters develop themselves! Most of the characters I have written have all evolved themselves, sometimes with names, sometimes without, so I thought I would discuss how I develop a character as a possible useful tool for someone out there who has discovered that their characters are already forming – and generally have a mind of their own.
I tend to be a person who has a story idea based around a character, so the character is one of the first things to develop, and it is something that is a natural progression in my mind. So lets take this step by step and develop a character.
The first thing we need to establish is the gender – male or female. Each have their own traits which will help tell the story. I don’t worry too much about naming them at this stage, a name will eventually come through, but isn’t essential at this development phase.
Strengths and Weaknesses
So say I want a male character. If you already have a story idea in mind, using this as a basis, work out whether your character is a strong person or a weak person. This can be in character and physical strength, but I always work on the description later.
Strengths and weaknesses are a key part of the story, because the story is generally about a character’s strengths or weaknesses being developed or exposed. Character strengths can include intelligence, sense of humour, honesty, integrity, loyalty. Weaknesses can include stubbornness, wilfulness, inappropriateness, criticism.
How fit is your character? Do they have an amazing physique? Fit and Athletic, or stodgy and a couch potato. Everyone has something that they like about themselves, whether it is their eyes, ears, feet, hips, breasts, chest. Pick something that they like the most and work from there.
While having a perfect body and perfect strengths, a perfect character is dull and boring. A character needs flaws, even if it is a small one. The story involves the flaw being changed into a strength or weakness, depending on how the character reacts to it. The character may be strong physically, but afraid of mirrors. So weight training at the gym would be hard for him, so how does he train? Why doe he have a fear of mirrors? A flaw is a way to make the character seem real to the reader.
What does the character look like? What coloured eyes do they have, what sort of nose, mouth? Tall, short, long fingers, big feet? It might not seem important, but it is. I recently used a character sheet by Thoughtful Dreamer based on Scriveners character sheets. I liked this so much that I used it for Cursed Love, the first time I have really used one, and I discovered some really useful information about my characters. It is worth finding one that works for you.
The character sheet over at Thoughtful Dreamer also includes a personality traits scale. This can be an interesting exercise, as it gives you some insight into your character. I fill this out for each main character, and sometimes a minor character, depending on their contribution to the story. It is also a useful tool to come back to if you find something in your story and you wonder how your character would react. Check out the personality trait scale and see whether they would respond instantly or take some time to think things over.
If you haven’t already, suggest you get a name for your character. You might already have one brewing. I like to look up names on websites and find out the meanings, it gives a deeper level to your character. One of my characters was called Virginia. She is a loner, and has been on her own for 20 odd years. while she wasn’t a virgin, the idea of not having slept with someone for twenty years did give her name a different dimension. There are lots of useful websites online which give definitions of names. Behind the Name is one I have used.
Sometimes your character has a strange quirk, or a different accent. They might smoke, or enjoy a tipple or two. Try to think of a couple of different traits. We all have them. Fastidiousness, neat freak, perfectionist, prefer white meat to red, drink only soy milk. Think of the strange little things that make us different from everyone else.
Knowing who is related to your character will give you an insight into how this person will relate to the outside world. If they got along well with females, but not males, you might find your male character doesn’t have many male friends, or your female character might be quite resentful towards men. Having siblings will tell you whether they are able to get along with other people or not.
This is only scraping the surface of character development, but I have found that the more I invest in my characters, the better my story will be. A lot of the character information won’t be used in the story, but just having the background can be valuable.
I suggest you are seriously looking for more on character development, then you look at character sheets (and before you Google it, make sure you put in writing character development or sheets, because otherwise you will come up with sheets on Dungeons and Dragons character sheets.
I hope that some of this has been valuable and useful to you.