Character Development

Day 3 – “C” Character Development

Particularly when working on longer pieces, I am a slightly obsessive outliner. For my novels, I have notebooks filled with lists and charts, descriptions and dialogue, and all manner of scribbles and scrawls. Certainly a part of my Type-A personality that I embrace, I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I have a certain element of my writing planned out, enabling me to tackle the actual writing with a plan in place, and the knowledge to get it done in an effective manner.

One of these elements of planning encompasses character development. I become very connected with the characters I write about, almost as if they are close friends of mine. I feel that if I don’t understand everything there is to know about my characters, I cannot tell their story in a genuine and authentic way, and my readers will know that what I’m trying to tell them about this individual is utter bullshit.

Pages out of my notebooks. I create "family trees" for my characters to help me better understand their histories and where they came from.
Pages out of my notebooks. I create “family trees” for my characters to help me better understand their histories and where they came from.

I map out everything about my characters, obviously more so for my main characters. Physical details like hair color, height and weight, and physical characteristics that stand out; likes and interests such as reading, fishing, hiking, or music; relationship history; family trees including siblings and descendants; personality traits and characteristics such as introvert vs extrovert, loyal to friends, and a sarcastic sense of humor.

All of these details are vital in ensuring that I understand everything about my characters to portray them in the most honest way. There is, of course, SO much more that goes into thorough character development. But making lists, creating diagrams, and binge-writing these details helps me get the ball rolling.

Writing without thoroughly developing my characters (and all other components of my novel for that matter) leads to pure and utter chaos. I absolutely hate making stuff up as I go along. Even if it is the most basic of outlines, I need something to get me going. That being said, I understand that as I write, my characters will grow and develop, and things will most certainly change and evolve as that particular piece of writing starts to take place. But I need some kind of road map to get me going.

What do you do for character development? Do you develop your characters as you write, or do you outline and plan as I do?


21 thoughts on “Character Development

  1. I develop mine as I write, but at the same time I write notes – backgrounds, experiences, and details that will never see the light of day. Basically I write the action before I go back to discover what the motivation might have been. It sounds ass-backwards, but it works for me.
    I love reading about how authors write. 🙂

    1. Same! This is why I’m doing this theme. I love hearing about the differences in our methods, and can then implement some of those techniques if something isn’t working out for me. 🙂

  2. I used to always be a pantser, preferring to let the story lead me as I go. Lately, I’ve discovered a new appreciation for at least some level of outlining before I get started. While I don’t think I could ever get into the level of detail that you and others do, I am fascinated by that attention to detail. Maybe I am just too impatient? heehee

    1. I will say this to the “panster” method… Some of my best writing is random, fly by the seat of my pants, and is written in some purge-writing state which was typically fueled by some kind of emotion. I think that I most certainly need to practice some spontaneity in my writing. I suppose it is all about balance! 🙂

  3. I think I do a little bit of both. I plan out the basics of my characters, and as I write, I’ll catch them doing something I didn’t expect. They leave me wondering if I ever really knew them at all.

  4. I’m doing exactly the same thing with my characters. It’s true that getting to know them like that actually makes it easier to write about them because you already have an idea how they will react to the situations you put them in. I never used to write like that but now I feel far more connected to my characters 😊

  5. Hmmm…. I write poems, but I do research and find out about the subject i’m writing about in detail before I start – I’m a believer in the fact that even if you don’t put the facts in that you know, they inform what you are writing.

  6. I have several sheets that I write up for my characters. One is a basic facts sheet that includes things like date of birth, appearance, family history, siblings, likes, dislikes. I also do an interview with my main characters and important supporting characters. When necessary, I write back stories for the characters I feel I need to know more about. I write and if I get stuck I revisit these sheets, and if needed I do more for that character. I try to spend a lot of time with my characters so I can write them authentically.
    Sometimes a story comes to me, and the character gets fleshed out in the writing. I usually do the above character sheets at some point anyway.

    1. I love the idea of an interview to get to know the characters better! This would be a great way to start practicing dialog and establishing their tones of voice and verbal mannerisms.

  7. I think this is where most fiction fails. The best fiction stays true to the characters throughout. One of my favorite characters in fiction is Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He is a devious selfish jerk from beginning to end. If he can help others, he does but only if it benefits him. So many authors seem determined to make all but the most evil of characters good deep down. Characters should be as flawed as the rest of us.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. This is part of why I outline so much. I don’t want to fall into that trap of making sure that every flaw is redeemed, every character has a happy ending. That isn’t realistic and I get really annoyed with books that end on a positive note, when really it should be the polar opposite.

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