Character development is one of my favorite things about writing, but it can be difficult to write a realistic, three-dimensional character. A balance of strengths and weaknesses is required along with a million details. Aside from physical description, like hair and eye color, you need to decide things such as who their parents are, do they have siblings, and was there some strange accident in their youth that left them with a phobia of rubber bands.
We’re going to explore some ways that you can get to know your characters a little better, get a little deeper inside their heads, and bring them to life. Making this connection can work wonders when you’re writing. You will notice that the character’s speech and actions seem to flow more naturally, and you won’t have to struggle to figure out how they’d react in a situation. Although, you will notice that they start to do things that you didn’t expect. It sounds crazy, but it’s true!
That’s enough introduction. Let’s get into the good stuff…
I have always been a huge fan of the stars and find astrology to be fascinating. So, of course, when I started working on Ascension, I made birth charts for all the characters. These were very detailed and included the exact time of birth, all the planets, and the ascendant sign. Now, something like this requires a number of tables, a couple charts, and a lot of other fun stuff, but just the choice of a birth date can have a huge impact and offer a lot of direction in developing your character. A Pisces would be very different from an Aries!
While we don’t have any control over when we’re born, we have all the control in the world when we’re making a character. If you have a singer who loves the spotlight and lives for the stage, they could easily be a Leo. Charismatic and over the top. At face value, Leos are said to adore attention, but they are also known to be incredible and generous friends.
Explore the different signs and get a feel for them. If you find one that sounds like a good fit for your character, choose a date in that time span, then learn more about the specific sign. I’m not saying that it has to be a perfect match, (due to the vast number of other aspects affecting a birth chart) but it can give you a path to wander along. If your character is a Scorpio in almost every sense but doesn’t have the notorious Scorpio temper, (like, well, me) that’s fine. It’s normal. No one is a perfect stereotype, and that will make them even more life-like. And, if you decide to dig deeper into astrology, you might just realize that your little Scorpion has a particular aspect of planet placement that takes the edge off that sting.
A study of the human mind can lead to great insight when we’re creating people. This doesn’t pertain strictly to phobias, trauma, and mental illness. No. You can learn about things such as the “spotlight effect”. If you’ve ever coughed in a quiet room or gone to school with a pimple, then you’re familiar with this one. It’s the belief that everybody is suddenly aware of you, watching you, judging you. Everyone in the hallway sees that pimple, even though it’s the size of a pinhead.
These are things that affect pretty much all of us because it’s wired into our brains. I took several Psychology classes specifically to help me with developing characters. Theory of Personality was a great one. Speaking of that… Go to this site: https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test and take the test, answering as your character. You can also find and take the traditional Meyer-Briggs personality test, but I like the one on this site because it gives extensive results. Not only will those results give you a lot of juicy insight to your character’s mind, it will also help you get inside their head as you try to answer the question.
Just spring-boarding off the last suggestion… Take any personality test as your character. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, sign up on Pottermore and take the sorting quiz as your character. Doing things like this will make you think about them in entirely new ways and learn things about them that you may never have known otherwise.
I am thinking about doing an entire post strictly on the benefits of roleplaying for character development, world-building, and plot development, but for now, I’m just going to add it here with a brief “why it’s a good idea”. Over four years ago, my (best) friend, who I’d recently met at a convention, offered to help me develop my National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) story by roleplaying in the world. It worked well enough, but then we started creating more plots and other characters. I ended up creating some of my most beloved characters through the stories we’ve being weaving, and they have their own book ideas in the works now as well.
The whole process of interactive roleplay allows you to “be” the characters. Again, you have to think like they would, and this helps to figure out how their mind works. By playing with someone else, your character will be faced with situations you don’t anticipate. Unlike when you’re writing alone, you don’t have complete control. Your partner’s characters will do things you never saw coming, react differently than you expected, and it’s much more realistic than having everything mapped out ahead of time. Just like in real life, your character has to learn to roll with the punches, and you get a good feel for who they are by how well they cope.
Some Things to Think About
These are just a few questions to ask yourself about your character to offer additional insight.
1. What is their favorite sandwich?
2. What is their favorite movie?
3. What is their view on religion?
4. What is their best childhood memory? Worst?
5. If faced with a choice to kill in self-defense, would they do it?
6. If someone tried to blackmail them, how would they handle it?
That’s all for now. Hope this helped!