Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Quick Tip on Character Development

The easiest way to show character development through a story is to start by taking away your characters' sense of security. Give them barriers to stop them from reaching their goals, then sit back and watch them react.

As the characters develop through their stories, however, they will need to change from reaction to action. That is, they'll need to stop reacting to events and start taking control. They will become more active and will do something about their circumstances.

Tada! One character arc broken down into its simplest form.

Has this formula worked for you? Can you share some other quick tips on character development?

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I've been tagged again with 11 Questions. This time the tag has come from Melissa Dean and C.V. Marie with some wonderful writerly questions. Again, I will pick my favourites:

What genre do you enjoy the most? I love the speculative genre. That includes fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, anything weird and wonderful.

Plotter or Pantser? I used to write by the seat of my pants and it was a whole bunch of fun, but I needed to do too much deleting when it came to the editing stage. Now I've fallen in love with outlining. I can write a story fast, I can see the plot as a whole and delete or move the scenes where necessary without fear of lost effort or time.

What is the first line of your current WIP? The worst sound in the world is a knock at the door. (It will likely change by the time I've finished editing.)

Favourite time of day to write? In the morning when the air is crisp and my mind is fresh.

46 comments:

  1. I like simple!
    I always give my characters a background. I also select strengths, weaknesses, and goals.
    I've always outlined. If I just wrote, I'd wind up in Tibet or something...

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  2. That's a great way to explain it. I like writing in the morning too.

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  3. Oh... thank you for this. This simple way you spelled it out really helps, actually. My focus with my WIP right now is character--I'm such a naturally plot driven writer, so I'm trying to make the character stronger. :D

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  4. "The worst sound in the world is a knock at the door."
    OMG,I swear it really is!

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  5. That's a great tip. I don't outline the story. I have an idea, but not the whole story. I do outline characters though as it makes it easier to know what choices they would make in the story. It's much easier to write when your characters are already developed and you know them.

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  6. Ooo, yes, weird and wonderful. My kinda stories too! I THINK I've taken away my characters' sense of security...some more than others, some more gradually than others .:)

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  7. This is great advice! I'm starting a new WIP so it's good to have a refresher going into it.

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  8. It's so true! Throw a hurdle in front of your characters to find out if they're going to jump, fall down, or go around it. I'm often surprised by what my characters choose to do. Pantser. :)

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  9. That's a wonderful way to flesh out your characters I like that idea.

    I also prefer writing in the morning. I'm a morning person and my brain works better then.

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  10. "Start by taking away your characters' sense of security. Give them barriers to stop them from reaching their goals, then sit back and watch them react." Lynda, I love this! What a helpful, thorough way to develop a character.

    Your approach reminds me of acting. You figure out the conflict and then you figure out how your characters would react to it. Acting is reacting. It's easier to do when you've figured out the dimensions and history of your character because you know what will frustrate them, how it will make them feel and how they will react.

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  11. Hi Lynda. You must have been looking over my shoulder as my latest character for a short story sounds just like this. I hope the editor likes her.

    Nice reading about you.

    Denise

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  12. Alex, simple is good.

    Morgan, good luck with your WIP!

    Dezzy, interesting... I hadn't expected that response.

    Marta, totally agree. Knowing the characters is half the battle.

    Carol, you make a good point. It doesn't always have to happen all at once.

    Komal, good luck with your new WIP

    Ashley, funny you should say that. I got into acting for a while before I decided I wanted to write.

    Denise, from the few pieces of your writing I've read, I don't doubt your editor will love her.

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  13. Very good advice about creating barriers. I read a book once where the main character seemed to overcome certain barriers in just a couple pages at a time; it left me wondering what the point was because everything just seemed to come too easily for her.

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  14. Ooh I do like a character development as one of reaction to taking action!

    I wish I could be a morning person! I can't do anything until towards midnight and then it's time for bed!

    Take care
    x

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  15. Was fascinated by your first line. Always looking for one that will grab the attention of my child readers. :0)

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  16. Simple, indeed, but it can be quite difficult to master well.

    "The worst sound in the world is a knock at the door." Love that line. I have a similar sentiment in my WiP about a ringing phone.

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  17. Great, easy suggestion, Lynda. I've always heard this as well, and it's basically the same exact thing: Figure out what your character wants most, then take it away from 'em. Put your characters through real trials and tribulations, then allow the natural course of action. This, in turn, creates a HUGE reaction necessary to any good story: Growth!

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  18. I'm not a writer, so very likely in the minority of those responding.

    I just want to know why character development can't be as speedy in real life. LOL. It can take decades, an entire lifetime, to become your Self, to take control and act, not just react. And some of us (i.e. me) still haven't learned how!

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  19. I write historical fiction and I find this applies for me. I often have to make sure not to add too much back story at first:)

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  20. I love simple too! Thats a great tip
    Love your answers.. It's a great way to get to know you a little

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  21. Workaholic, exactly. When it's too easy for the characters, then it's boring for the readers.

    Carole, first lines are difficult to get right.

    JeffO, thanks :)

    Alyssia, well said! And yes, growth is essential...or, at least, it is for happy endings, so I guess I should say change is essential.

    Fuzzy Tales, I don't think we ever stop learning. It would be nice to learn a lesson once and have it stick, but all too often we have to keep relearning it. Practice makes perfect! ;)

    Mark, ah yes, the bane of backstory... ;)

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  22. Great tip on characters!
    My favourite time of day to write is also in the morning. Nice to know more about your writing habits etc.

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  23. Nice simple explanation of character arc!

    I'm a pantser-turned-plotter, too. It's amazing how much faster the writing goes, and how much easier it is to edit when I plot!

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  24. Thanks for the tip! I'm currently working on characters; this is one point I'll have to keep in mind.

    Intriguing first line!

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  25. I like to interview my characters. I have a couple of different sets of questions that are very helpful. And I prefer evenings.

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  26. I appreciate you breaking down the process of creating a story arc into a very basic form.

    I'll be putting this into action tomorrow when I hold my weekly writing session.

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  27. This is a great tip. I think another one would be to think about the character's goal and what emotions would get in the way of that goal in a scene. Then, create a event that will bring out these emotions. I love it when characters are off balance!

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  28. Love your simple breakdown! Character development is something I worked on between my first and second book, and creating an in-depth back-story helped me so much.
    You summed up in a few sentences what I would have rambled on about for at least six or eight...ha!

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  29. I used to have problems imagining -- and describing -- my characters' appearance without using cliches (interesting scars were a particular favourite of mine!). My quick tip: spend a few hours in a public place (I sit in my local library) paying attention to how real people look, then use your notes whenever you need to create a new character. (But do remember it's rude to stare!)

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  30. I let my characters fight for face time with me as I write the story. This is what works for me. Let the siblings rival and battle it out. That's their job.

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  31. Lynnie, that quick tip was the perfect capsule.

    *Gulp.*

    :)

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  32. No, this formula hasn't worked for me. I like to structure a story concept around a plot, and see "who shows up for dinner". A better metaphor would be: I plant the tree first and find out what the leaves and branches look like as it grows. And I can think of one vivid example where this concept didn't apply: Kurt Vonnegut's "Sirens of Titan". The protagonist, Malachi Constant kept designating himself "I was a victim of fortunate circumstances", and hence he only reacted to events. There was a definite lack of motivation and action, which illustrated Kurt Vonnegut's irony. Malachi simply reacted like a half-interested victim to every thing happening to him. That was the point; a character who refused to evolve.
    The only genres that really stand out in my mind where you have reaction then placed action are plot puzzles, plot adventures.

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  33. Hm, but is there a way to do it without making it seem forced?

    A lot of the stories I've read in the past seem to have a convenient problem appear which seems to only serve the purpose of dragging the story on.

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  34. your tips explain so much to me!! Now I realize why I like the books I do... and thank you for this information...it is so straightforward and yet not common knowledge.

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  35. Nice and simple. Thanks! Sometime we complicate things to no good in our heads.

    I like writing in the morning, too.

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  36. I'm with you on the speculative genre. Most of the engaging, highly creative work seems to be happening there.

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  37. Great way to explain character development. I too was a pantser, now I need my outlines in place before I start writing.

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  38. Great tip, Lynda!

    A tip from me is to know exactly what it is that your character wants deep down inside. This is called the basic need and it should be summed up in no more than three words, eg. To be loved, To be powerful, to be safe, to belong etc. Once you understand this about your character it becomes much easier to understand their motivations and actions and also to predict them.

    Jai

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  39. Great tip on character development. Thanks for sharing it.

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  40. I love your simplified character arc! I've heard it explained like this--put your character in a tree, then throw rocks at him, then throw bigger rocks. I love the moving from reaction to action. I need to go back and take a good look at my fantasy book and figure out where I need to have her move to the action phase. (She does, I just need to make it clear in my own mind. Thanks for your Quick Tip!

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  41. Speculative for me too. And I'm a panster as well!

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  42. Awesome reading about you, Lynda! Thanks!

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  43. It sounds so simple when put like that!

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  44. Your character-development tip sounds good, I'll try to keep that one in mind.

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  45. Back from the weekend, looks like I'm a tad behind ;) I'll catch up with visiting everyon'e blog as soon as I can. Much love for all the comments.

    Shallee, it IS isn't it!

    mshatch, I've tried interviews, because so many writers swear by them, but they've never really worked for me.

    Angela, great tip!

    Wendy, yes!! People watching is one of my favourite pastimes. Great tip!

    Stephen, hahaha that works.

    Suze, hug

    Weissdorn, oh yes, thanks for bringing up that point. I'd suggest that Vonnegut's example is the exception as is much literary fiction. What I described is a common character arc often seen in general/mainstream fiction, young adult and children's fiction. Whether you use that arc will of course depend on the market you're writing for, the genre and the style.

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  46. DWei, now there's the trick! Often knowing the 'rules' in the back of your head is enough. Consciously writing to the rules will make your writing stilted because you'll over-think it all (I know from experience hehe).

    M Pax, oh yes, for sure. That's exactly the point I just made to DWei.

    Jai! Great to see you again! Fantastic tip about knowing your characters.

    Betsy, lol, I like that about putting your character in a tree and start throwing rocks and him. hehe.

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.