It began with this simple question:
What do you look for in a favourite book? His answer was: Character development. World building is great, but it should NEVER distract or take away from what matters most, which to me, is the characters. I definitely adhere to incorporate this virtue into my own writing. I think a good book has several shades of grey in its characters, and also never let’s you feels as if the heroes are invulnerable (I don’t think its entirely wrong of me to say that I enjoy a good, unexpected character death). Furthermore, to take it a step further, I prefer it when the “heroes” and the “villains” are not so clear, and that all of the characters have realistic justifications for their actions, rather than the simple good vs evil outtake.
Great stuff huh? I thought so too, so I asked him if he’d write a full post about it and he was happy to oblige.
Please let the information below serve as supplementary assistance to aide as a character development guideline for your novel (or novels). I believe there are at least 7 major elements that come into the process of creating the characters for your story, and that there indeed is a sequence in which to prioritize first to ensure you forge better streamlined, more believable, and thoroughly interesting characters. Here they are:
1. The Purpose (Main or Support – POV does not have to mean Main Role)
– The first thing I believe you need to do when creating a character is to decide the point of them entirely. Are they what you might consider a main (someone who the story never takes its eyes off of, someone critical to the plotline), a support (someone to enhance the actual main character/characters, or even give a point of view of them when a support has its own POV), an ancillary (someone given a name and brief history and solid description that you plan to have companion the main & supports from time to time), or a “fodder” character (someone minor you’ve given a name for the sole purpose of evoking more drama from the reader when you inevitably kill them off).
– NOTE: If writing in POV style, you do NOT have to give your main a POV. Perhaps one of your main characters is too complex, knows too much that you don’t wish the reader to know so soon in the story, has a major plot twist planned you don’t want the reader knowing, or you just want to be purposely vague for the intrigue of it all. Give a POV to a solid supporting character. I do this often in my novels.
– Think like a developmental editor. Think like a devil’s advocate. Could your story do without this character? Would your story be better without this character? The reason you created this character should carve your story, become a part of it symbiotically – not distract. Never EVER create a POV that you feel the reader will feel: “Ah man, not this guy again…”
– Once you’ve decided on the purpose of your characters for your novel, I am sure by now you have conjured some concept of them. Even more important than how they look (which I am sure is the most enjoyable part to create), you need to flesh them out. You need to know their history. If it helps, even create a mini-timeline of their life, which is something I do. Who were they raised by? Was it their parents or someone else? Who are their family members and are they in the story? Any significant relationships we should know about? Were they involved in any past major conflicts, such as wars or duels? Did something drastic happen to them to make them who they are today, or alter the way they current look like?
3. Description Evolution:
– This may be a flaw in that this is the first thing you think up. “A cool looking character”. Sure, you can do this first, and maybe you did on accident, but the prior two focus points should be covered soon after then if you bypassed them. But description should not just be about their current aesthetics, color features, the way they dress, the weapon (if any) that they bear … You should know about the evolution of their description as well. Are they going to lose a hand by the end of the first novel? Did something magical happen to them to make a white streak form in their hair. Are they going to acquire some nasty scar or cybernetic part at some point? Are they “weak character” but suddenly they are awarded with “powerful item” and now they look like “strong character”? You get the idea.
– This topic does not simply mean intimate relationships. It envelopes all relationships. With their closest companions, family members, and yes potential romances. If you are writing in multiple POV styles as I do, does “this character” ever cross paths with “that character” and how do they react with each other? What impact do other characters they are involved with have on them. Relationships can even be broad. Is your character sorely prejudice against another organization or type of people in your world because of their history?
– Fun stuff, but a difficult part perhaps if your story has a ton of characters. Your characters should all seem uniquely different in the way they think. If you are writing with a traditional main character POV or clear chapter POVs, then my best tip for these is to incorporate inner monologue (I use italics to accentuate this in my novels). Inner monologue is a great way to show how the character truly feels in a non-verbal dialogue delivery system. Maybe your character is forced to act completely noble in front of their peers, but they secretly loathe it and you can express that better this way, as an example. Diverting from just introducing such a feature in your novel, is to of course, make the personality a part of the character-building process. As a practice, take a current or past job you’ve worked at perhaps, and think of yourself and everyone that worked there. Now, write down in your mind the different personalities, mannerisms, and motivations of each employee. Now try that on your own characters.
6. Knowledge Base:
– Very important topic not to be ignored … How much does your character know? In the old table-top RPG terms there was a sinful word everyone avoided – METAGAMING. Be fully aware of which characters are privy to which, and how much, information about your world and plotline. A good editor will slap your wrist quick from detouring from this.
– Last on the list, but especially important if you are a writing a series, and where so many writers go wrong in a book series and a television series. Speaking to series authors specifically here, I am going to use a trilogy for the example. Before you begin writing Book 1 you should have at least some idea of the fate of the character (if they live) throughout Book 2 and Book 3. Whose paths will they cross, what conflicts will they have, what relationships will they build or be betrayed by? Geographically, take a map you are using for your story (whether its your own made-up world or our real world) and print it out or open it in a simple Paint program on your computer. My practice, is that I draw a line that each character will travel to as the chapters evolve and each book installment progresses.
I hope my own 7 topics of character development help! These are my no means the 7 Commandments of Characters, as I am no self-proclaimed expert. Creating characters is simply something I have always had a passion for. Looking forward to seeing what other authors have to share on this. And I will make myself available to any authors that feel they need help in this category for characters they are working on.
– Ezekiel Eversand
I am so thankful for the many talented authors I have the priviledge to know. Thank you Zeke for taking time out of your busy writing schedule to share these invaluable insights with us!
Find Ezekiel here:
Cartoon by Grant Snider