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The humble start for character development

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*Please keep in mind that this was a lesson I made for my class back when I was in college. Its a far more simple outlook on character development, and is aimed more toward upstarting writers. Still, hope you enjoy!* :D

So, the crux of it all;

What exactly is a character?

Within every story is a host of characters. These are the individuals or individual that the narrator is portraying within the story. 

Subjectively, characters are the focus of most stories, and will be the husks of emotional driven narrative. However, the question then is; “What exactly does it take to create and develop a good character?”. Well, while the question can be lead to a varied answer from individual to individual, there is always an undoubted truth that characters who feel “Real and true to themselves” are better than tropey husks within a narrative devoid of character development…..right?

In this simplified outlook into the nature of character development, I hope to try and provide you with some key ideas to keep in mind when developing a character and to provide you with a solid method of creating and developing a character as your story/stories develop.

The Importance of a character?

 

It's sometimes hard to see the importance of a character within a story, as many different narratives place their characters in so many situations that it's hard to grasp at what is necessary or not to make the characters unique, interesting and above all else, fit into the narrative fluidly.

While it's difficult to give a clear answer regarding their importance, it is safe to note that characters create a situation where the reader is either able to relate to that character, or find their situation or personality interesting in some way. Characters allow for the reader to follow their story as a kind of overhead viewer, allowing the reader to observe the characters from afar, and in some cases feel as though they are part of the story themselves. While different stories each follow different settings and narrative designs, this won't exactly be the case for all characters, but at its core a character is designed to be a husk in which the story can revolve around or flow with.

It is important to understand that Characters are in place to be used by the writer to draw in an audience, and to allow the audience to connect with that character in some way or another, be it positively or negatively. Greater writers will even use this to create a giant mix of emotions in such a way that the reader feels compelled to question the individual character in question, which can really emphasise the humanity and individual thought put into a character.

Considerations to take when creating a character, and putting ideas down on paper?

 

When it eventually comes to finally forming a character for your own story, it is important to start by considering everything about your story first.

It’s important to know exactly who your main character is, and why they are important in some way or another (or why they are not important, which can lead to more interesting development processes). Depending on whether or not you have already come up with ideas about the world in which the story is meant to take place, then you can start by revolving everything about your character around an arc that would make sense.

Moreover, it is important to begin and decide other characters as well. While it may seem easy to simply create a few characters and be done with it, side characters can actually be one of the most interesting plot points in a story. Making a well-rounded team with the ability to communicate fluently with one another (be it negatively or positively) would seem more appealing to a reader then one in which a whole bunch of characters were thrown together with poorly designed narrative toward one another. In other words, it's best to begin by creating a basis for a set of characters, building them up, then start to work out their personalities and traits as time goes by.

Moreover, there are other considerations to note as well, such as:

  • Where the character will start and why?

  • What is the goal of the character?

  • Why is the character related to the story (What is their purpose)?

  • How will these characters interact with one another?

  • The narratives that each of the characters will follow, and how those narratives cross and connect.

  • Splitting up personalities to prevent clashes (Characters with the same personality set should have their own unique twist, otherwise they become too similar. The only exception to this would be if it's intentional)

  • Think of the reasons why a character is the way they are.

  • Developing a character over time, rather than making them set from the beginning.

  • Forming unique relationships between the reader and the character, while maintaining an element of secrecy and mystery into their personalities.

  • Keeping a set of goals clear when developing a character throughout the story

 

When it comes to finally putting ideas to paper, my advice would be to always rattle off exactly what you think all the time. Because at the end of the day, each of us will come up with billions of unique or tropey ideas, yet we won't know exactly what works and what doesn't until we get to crafting ideas. So, the best way to sort this out would be to create a simple mind map.

While it may appear simple on the surface, creating a mind-map with one or two words per piece allows you to simply look back over it, grab a bunch of elements there and combine them. This combination of elements will then be what you use to create a simple outline of a character. While you don't have to follow this step, it's best to do so in order to keep and maintain ideas. This can also be done in bullet points, through the creation of small narratives or through individual quotes.

As an example, try creating a brainstorm for a character, with this set theme in mind:

“War”

Setting themes like this narrows things down to a point, yet still leaves an endless amount of things for you to think about in a narrative sense.

Basic structure of a character and going into detail?

Once you have a brainstorm, you will want  to start refining your ideas into set characters. In order to do this, you will take elements and words from the brainstorms, and write them on a separate piece of paper for the character in question. Doing so will allow you to create incredibly small descriptions that are extremely flexible.

It’s important to have flexibility in mind when starting with a character. If you are already set on giving a character a specific plot-line or quirk, then you will still want to keep other elements of the character under some kind of flexible arrangement, otherwise the character won't show some form of progression.

So, when designing the basic outline of a character:

  • Simply take ideas from the brainstorm that you like, and see what sticks well together.

  • Try to think of reasons behind your choices, but don't look into too much detail just yet. Doing so can lead you to rushing a character's development before others, which will then lead into you changing the character later.

  • Remember that any ideas can go, as long as they stick to the theme you are working towards (Unless the idea going against the theme is apart of it.)

 

Once you have the idea for your character in place, and you have all the elements you want to use, you will then begin to refine your ideas and go into detail. This will usually involve following a list of specifications in order to create a character profile.

In essence, a character profile should describe everything about the character, from their appearance to their personalities, as well as their skills, likes, dislikes, exedra. You will want to go into as much detail as you would like, since this will be what you reference for that character in the future. That being said, you don't have to stick to the initial ideas, you can always change a character around a little bit in order to suit the story. However, if you do so, be prepared to go back and alter allot, since you will always want your character to stay true to themselves, since it adds a realistic personality to them. This sense of personality is vital in any character.

While you add detail, try to change the character around a little bit, in order to show progression. This can be done through the use of an altered appearance at one stage in the story, leading to the character's appearance changing. Adding small details like this will help with story progression later, and will add long-short term goals for you to focus on.

Once you have ideas in place, it would also be advisable to create a moodboard for your character. Simply taking images to represent elements of their physical appearance or things about them will allow you to have a set concept and image in your mind when working with the narrative.

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Implementing and continuing a character within narrative?

 

Once you have your character, you will want to begin to place him/her into the narrative. In order to do so, you must choose the importance of the character, as well as what area would most suit their importance to the narrative. If they are a main character, then they will want to be introduced near enough to the beginning, or introduced later in an important manner. In order to show their importance, you will need to give the character a fully fleshed out personality, as well as a greater description to show their importance. While this may seem intimidating to do at first, you will eventually learn to write out the character as though you were them, as you will eventually fall into knowing how they work off by heart.

This kind of development, will then be shown throughout your story. With the idea of a personality revolving around a character, you are able to progressively learn about what makes a character tick, what their ambitions and quirks are, what they act like under certain situations, exedra. You will never openly dump information regarding a character all at once. Having no room for mystery on a character makes them predictable and boring (This is regarding all characters, not those who are made to be open. They are special cases, and are implemented for a greater purpose later down the line, or also for comedic effect.)

 

Over time, you will want to continually develop your character. Once they have been given a set introduction, you will then want to consider the character's future and importance within the narrative. However, one of the more important things to note is that you're character is in fact a person. No matter what happens within your story, each one of your characters will react differently to situations, based on their personalities and interests. For example, a chaotic character wouldn't suddenly have a change of heart, unless they know the main cast well enough to do so. The same would apply to good characters, who wouldn't suddenly murder a bunch of civilians without feeling anything, or brushing it off as nothing important. (the only time this won't apply is if the character is devoid of emotion, in which case you will have to consider their reactions to situations)

Continual development will focus mostly on the characters strengths and weaknesses, which will be continually pulled at throughout your narrative. What you will want to focus on is the changes that the character will go through, which either break these bonds apart, or strengthen them accordingly. While the strengths and weaknesses can be applied to physical and mental capabilities of the character, you will also want to focus on these strengths in regards to the characters everyday actions within the story. For example, the way a character will interact with those around him, and the relationship ties that come along with that.

Other advice:

  • Try using real world examples as a basis for a character. Linking a character to a person can often allow you to simply think about how that individual would react, then you can begin to develop them with relative ease and give them realistic development.

  • Always write down and keep any ideas you come up with. Doing so will allow you to simply look back and take ideas for later story and character development.

  • Try to avoid working with a character that you cannot connect with. As a writer, it is best to know your boundaries, and to stick with your strengths during the production of a story. However, in order to expand your knowledge on emotion and character development for certain mindsets, I would advise practising through the use of short stories first. That way, you can see if the frame of mind you are working towards is correct or not, and figure out ways to improve it.

  • If you can't think of any ideas for a character, then take some time to sit back and chill out. Character generation is one of the hardest things to deal with, as you have to more or less create an individual with their own personality, along with every single part of their existence within your narrative world. Take all the time you need to think over ideas, but make sure to keep taking down notes in order to keep ideas jotted down in the hopes of gathering concepts that could work when combined.

Final thoughts:

while characters can be intimidating at first, its best just to jump in and sink your teeth into developing them. once you get the hang of crafting their role to fit a narrative, you'll often be proud of developing each and every character you come up with. while you may come across some duds here and there, they will allow you to learn from your mistakes, and use that knowledge to create bigger and better characters in the future.

So, I hope you were able to learn at least something from this! thank you for reading, and good luck with your stories to come!!!

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