Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Character Development

We're starting with some more shameless advertising - but this time it is for a free flash fiction anthology:  Go there, and you can download a series of short stories based on the theme of "Please Don't Feed the Alligators".  I've got a short story in there, and so have some other wonderful authors, and it's entirely free, so go and take a look, in case you find something that you'd like.

Advertising out of the way, today we are going to look at the idea of character development.  This is the personal journey your characters take over the course of the story - how they mature, and their personality develops, whilst still staying the same person beneath it all.

A good way to look at it is to consider some examples:
- Bilbo Baggins, the simple Hobbit at the start of the book who wants nothing more than a quiet life, ends up becoming more confident, having an adventure and doing a lot of things that he never dreamed he would have been capable of doing.
- Harry Potter goes over the course from a mistreated, unwanted and lonely boy to a warrior and hero who is willing to sacrifice himself, and is surrounded by friends whose loyalty he has earned.  He bears the mental scars from his journey, but he is far stronger at the end of the books than he was at the beginning.
- Ana Steele goes from an abused virgin being manipulated by the abusive and violent Mister Grey to a coldhearted murderess, able to get rid of her tormentor and take his wealth for herself
... alright, so possibly the last of those didn't happen, but a girl can dream right?

Regardless, people don't want to read about characters that are the same at the start of your story as they are at the end.  They need to have grown and changed in some way - even if it is simply that they have a renewed appreciation of their life and a greater understanding of those around them.

One of the best ways to develop your characters, and to make your stories more interesting, is to make your characters' lives difficult.  If you challenge them, and make them rise to defeat problems, you can help them grow.  Even the challenges that they can't conquer, and which they aren't able to tackle, will enable them to develop - perhaps a lost fight will give them determination, or being unable to help in an accident will inspire them to learn first aid.  Giving your characters an easy life isn't only not as engaging to read, it doesn't let the characters develop in response.

Challenges for your characters don't need to be anything particularly gigantic - it doesn't need to be a world-ending, or life or death situation.  Having to decide if they will quit a job they hate, or respond to a flirtatious word when they have been hurt before, can help to slowly move your character from who they are at the start of your writing to who they are at the ending.

One thing that a lot of new writers get criticized for is making their characters too perfect.  Whilst this isn't necessarily true; see Batman or Iron Man (both billionaire geniuses with a long list of romantic conquests, a tragic past and amazing technology), giving your characters flaws helps them to be more real.  Over the course of the story, they can come to realize these flaws, and work to tackle them, even if they don't solve them entirely.

If you are writing a romance story, or a story in which romance features, you have two main characters who will develop over the course of the story - revealing sides of themselves that perhaps wouldn't have been so obvious at the start.  A famous example of this would be the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy within Pride and Prejudice, as over the course of the book their views of each other are transformed and hatred gives way to love.

All characters within your story will be affected by the events that happen around them, and background characters will have their own lives as well that will be developing.  It might not be possible to show the development that is happening to minor characters, but if they are caught up in anything that you think would change them keep that in mind.  Next week we will be looking at background characters more closely, so I'll see you then.

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