How to develop your Character in Fiction Writing can become such a daunting and time consuming process that there comes a point where we realise that there is no end to it.
The reality is that there is no end to it – that’s the nature of character.
Do you know yourself?
How can you know your character and believe that you can round off the personality and character traits of a fictional character to the point where you say that it’s complete?
We can’t do this any more than we can spend a lifetime getting to know ourselves and others in real life. And that is the beauty of it. It’s always the big question in real life and always the constant question in fiction, for the writer and the reader the question that is constantly raised is who is this person and why do they do what they do?
We can only hint at the deeper traits of character that motivate the actions of any character in our writing. But what of those sudden changes in the course of a story? The moment when a character discovers that they have what it takes to overcome the baddies or to do the right thing and win the day? As writers, we do need to know why that change can happen and for it to be believable, we need to know our character. We have to develop a Personality that is capable of a Character Arc that takes the reader deep into the psyche of the person and gives the reader enough reason and logic to make those actions believable.
Searching around the web, looking through the pages of books, we can often find information on how to develop a character for fiction writers. The problem is that the authors often try to nail it down to a list of things that you must do and ensure have been done in order to create a rounded character. listing ideas about character that you are developing is good advice but it doesn’t give you the insight needed to work that character through the pages of a novel. We have to know the character on a deeper basis.
This is where our daily lives and our own interactions with other people come into play. The knowledge we have about the people we meet and know in everyday life varies. As far as depth of connection is concerned it depends on how often we meet them and what we talk about; is the relationship a `personal one or is it just a fleeting one. A colleague at work is not going to have the same meaning to us as a close friend who we involve into our personal lives.
Instinct and intuition as tools helps us overcome the problem of having to visualise a web of ideas that would normally overload our brains with too much information about a person. This is how we should approach knowing our fictional characters and knowing how they would react in certain fictional situations. We use instinct and intuition in many daily situations and are often right about things that we know – but don’t feel we want to spend time thinking deeply about because we have already done the groundwork on understanding the situation.
The characters that we create for our stories and novels normally fall within an arc of ideas that are driven by desires. We want our character to have a strong need and want for something. This will dictate that they must have the ability, somewhere in them, to change and become a more adept character and become able enough to take command and change the situation (assuming that we start at point A where the character is fairly happy and has no idea that he or she wants to change only to discover that they must fight their way through to B in order to survive).
When you are writing I am sure that you would rather be focused on the page and be in the position to keep at it without having to make constant stops to reference a list of character traits. A list that would probably not give you the answer that you are looking for, but would raise questions about character more than anything.
We need to know our character enough to be able to instinctively follow actions and ideas through with the most logical next action. In the same way we would instinctively know what a friend might do in any given situation.
We can start with our character and form a personality in different ways. thinking about how they might fit into a story is one way but often leads to the problem of a square peg in a round hole – things seem forced throughout the story.
We can invent a character by thinking about the perfect character and then allow the story to develop around the character. A method that is often used and employs the instincts of the author to the point that the whole thing becomes a sort of growth from a seed idea, character arrives and then a situation that seems to be obvious and the story is typical of something that might occur in that characters life. It seems like the whole thing just developed and grew in your mind – which it did – now you begin to get hold of it and try to control it enough to be able to write it towards a desired ending. Much of what you are doing here is using memory fragments that come from a variety of sources in your life so far. As writers we need to get hold of the idea and manipulate it or coerce it towards the storyline we desire. that means knowing the character more and understanding their motivations.
Our Character is realistic and therefore could possibly be found in real life, somewhere. Why not take a look around? the newspapers, the history books and the books that have recorded the lives of many a legend. They all offer the opportunity to delve deep and discover people that are similar to your character and wouldn’t mind if you take a few ideas for motivations and traits of personality to beef up your own character. It’s a good idea and will help with developing not only your character but your writer’s imagination.
Keep a notebook for character work. Write down aspects of personality that you feel reflect the person’s real self. Keep the book with you and write every idea down and you will soon begin to see that the fragmented ideas that come to you are developing a patterned personality. It doesn’t matter where they come from – probably instinct – just use them for reflection on your character and ask yourself many questions about how the character might act in certain situations. You should do this with each character, I find it better to develop each character individually and only think of them and their acts as if they were the protagonist or main character. As time goes by and the character becomes a strong visual idea you will begin to see them naturally in context of the story and the other character actions.
Test your characters in situations by writing about them as they encounter difficult or dangerous circumstances. Write about them again, but in the first person or at least the opposite view point to what you intend.
If you have a problem with a character that you are sure is already ‘whole’ and developed enough but still doesn’t gel with the other characters or you just feel that something is wrong, then write them in the first person and you will discover their real personality will spring up in a very refreshing way. It’s not only good for discovery of character it’s great fun to write from another view-point anyway.
By focusing on each character individually you give them a spot-light that they need to develop. Later, as you begin to develop other characters you will discover that your already developed characters will interact with your developing character. They’re coming alive and beginning to take to the story in a way that they offer ideas for story-lines and directions to take.
This is where we discover that characters seem to come alive and take over the story. We are the authors and shouldn’t put too much weight on this, our job is to write and control the flow of the story. Often when it seems that a character is running about doing as they please it’s a question of allowing so much and remembering who is boss. You are, the author. But it is a good sign that a character wants to act according to his or her nature, rather than follow the illogical steps of a sleeping author. So it offers us food for thought and a chance to listen to the characters and there real personalities.