Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Three More Methods of Character Development

Three methods of developing your characters, in continuation of last week's post. And there's even a little summary at the bottom. Get excited, people!


Basically, it's just like writing self-fanfiction, for all the people out there who have dreams of opening fanfiction.net, and clicking on the title of their novel, and reading real writing by real fans about their characters, and then gouging their eyes out with sporks, while secretly feeling very smug about the whole affair. This is exactly like that. Only without the real fans. Or the sporks.

For the sake of legitimate character development, one probably ought to go for one-shots that answer useful questions. How did your characters meet? What were their childhoods like? How did Raven get that adorable scar just above his eyebrow? But once you've started writing one-shots about your characters, why limit yourself to the constraints of your canon? One-shots can also be used to throw your characters into situations they will never be in, and that way you can explore how they would react, and learn all sorts of new things about them. Or while you're on the topic of fanfiction, you can shamelessly and gratuitously ship your own characters in ways that would never actually happen. I have done this, and to this day, I stand by my claims that it is a legitimate exercise in character development. After all, I tell myself, I will learn a lot about Storm's personality while trying to work out exactly when and why he would kiss his boarding-school room-mate. (Yes, I named my character Storm. Please don't judge me.) This shows how good writing one-shots really is – it can be genuinely useful and gratuitously fluffy at the same time.

Overall, this is lots of fun, and since almost any scene containing your character gives you insights into their psyche, you can pretty much do anything you like with character one-shots. And it's just like fanfiction, but without the sporks. It's also an opportunity your characters to come alive on paper in real, actual scenes, which is something that otherwise mightn't happen until you start writing your story.

Writing a page about each character

A lot of writing-advice type articles and books recommend this as a way to develop your characters. And that's basically all they say: write a page. Personally, I don't think this does much in the way of character development. I don't feel like I learn anything by sitting down and writing 'Gadkinalia is an exploited slave-girl in the palace of King Zdefn. She is fifteen-years-old, with medium length brown hair...' I find myself staring at the page, trying to fill it, and eventually just making up random facts in the hope of getting it finished. Like the questionnaires I talked about last week, this might be good for consolidating character – ensuring you have everything you know about them written down, so that you don't forget – but when it comes to actually learning and exploring different things about your characters, this is way too unstructured for me. Maybe I'm just intimidated by the blank page, but I've never found that this works.

Just start writing the novel already

It works. It really does. I suppose it depends on the novel in some ways, but most of my favourite characters that I have created have just turned up on paper without any development exercises or deep thought. For my second Nanowrimo attempt, I sat down on the first of November with no idea what to write, and so I named male lead Bessie, after Doctor Who's car. Over a hundred thousand words later, and he has plot, and personality, and relationships and all the other important things a character needs. The one thing he is a little light on is an explanation for why a boy in Victorian England is called Bessie.

Of course, the only problem here – other than the massive amounts of editing required if you knew nothing about your characters' backstory and the like before you began writing – is that you can't plan a novel without characters. So this really only applies if you are willing to dive into your writing with no planning whatsoever. And of course if you don't mind a hell of a lot of editing afterwards. But in terms of creating a memorable, well-rounded character, I think this works as well as anything.

In conclusion...

At the end of this, I couldn't resist a summary. Ordered with star ratings. Because I'm cool like that.

Writing a page about each character: This is too unstructured for me, and I don't think you learn anything from it. Two stars. 

Extended questionnaire: I find them stifling and dull. Two-and-a-half stars. 

Just start writing the novel already: It's super effective! I swear! Although I don't think it's for everyone. Four-and-a-half stars for people who don't like to plan. Two-and-a-half stars for people who do. 

List your characters from one to ten...: Lots of fun. Especially useful if you actually tailor them to your characters before you begin. Three-and-a-half stars. 

Interviewing your characters: It doesn't work for me, but I don't see why it shouldn't work for other people. Four stars. 

One-shots: It's fun. It works. I don't have much else to say. Five whole stars.


  1. About writing oneshots about your characters: any advice on where to find prompts for this sort of thing. How do you decide what oneshots to write?

    1. I don't know of any specific prompts or lists of prompts. It really depends on the character and setting you're writing about.But if I do come across anything useful, I will post it here. =)