The Dos and Don’ts of Character Development

How far is your story? Is it still bubbling in your imagination, waiting to spring out? Are you on your first draft? Third? One hundredth?

No matter what stage, it is time to look at the character development in your story. I want to point out that character development doesn’t start out on the first page, it starts out way before that. There needs to be an entire lifetime, family tree, and culture attributed to your character before they even step out onto the stage.

This doesn’t mean that your current work needs to thrown straight in the bin, no, any character can earn some flair. Sit down and take a moment to consider each of your characters. Sure, it might be a little bit of work. But if it were easy, everyone would do it. (Or so my mother would say.)

Do:

Have a backstory. This doesn’t mean that your character needed one before you started writing him or her(although I don’t recommend it), but they better have one by the time you’re ready to publish. You need to know your characters better than they know themselves.  It doesn’t matter how you do it, but get to know your characters! And once you do, make sure their story is consistent throughout your manuscript.

Don’t:

Have a perfect character. Perfection is boring. Every character needs flaws, especially the good guys. This will make your characters relatable, and more importantly, believable.

Do:

Give your characters unique traits. Get organized. Write out a list of both physical and emotional attributes. Come up with one or two unique quirks that you can pull from and give us an endearing quality to hold onto. Create a pin-board with food they would like or places they would most likely visit. Especially with stories that have multiple characters, it can be hard for the reader to keep them all straight. But the old geezer with the crooked nose, and the long-legged lass, are colorful types that we will easily remember.

Don’t:

Forget to give your character a last name. Even I’m guilty of it when I first started writing. What kind of story has a character with only a first name?

Do:
Be specific. How old is your character? When is their birthday? Who are their parents? What’s their favorite season? Who are their enemies? What are their goals?

Don’t:

Make life easy for your character. Put your character in a situation that s/he’s going to hate. Give us a pet peeve or a panic attack. Give yourself an opportunity to help us delve deeply into your character’s psyche. The second your character is happy and content, I’m bored and onto the next book.

Recommended Sources from Professional Authors on Character Development:

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by author Nancy Kress

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by author Angela Ackerman

The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws by author Angela Ackerman

Bottom line: put in the effort and flesh out your characters to the extreme. If you’re just starting out, I suggest making yourself a character cheat-sheet. This will be a useful tool you can go back and reference throughout your novel creation. Or if you’re in the revision period, now is the time to expand those characters with vivid background and personality. You will be proud of your work, and your readers will appreciate it too.

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