There may be some of you out there at the beginning of your writerly journey, thinking, “I have so many questions,” this is natural, and is one of the things that makes us writerly in the first place. We question, we have wonder and we look for the answers.
In the beginning, of my own writing process, I found myself asking questions about traditional publishing for example and a simple Google search produced amazing, glittering, very special results. I was introduced to Jane Friedman.
Jane writes for Publishers Weekly, has developed a writing resource for writers called The Business of Being a Writer, and gives talks, teaches classes and has this amazing and very helpful Blog. She’s smart, well informed and very successful. I recommend her work and trust what she says. Now, I want to talk a bit about Character Development today and I wanted to access the point that she makes below using John Thornton Williams advice. I love this, and I think it gives beautiful entry into HOW you get into the character’s personal space, in their head and enter into a working, 5 senses view of their life. If YOU can see and feel it developing, your readership will too.
Jane says, “One of the most important goals of any fiction writer is getting the reader to connect on an emotional level with the story’s characters, but how do you accomplish this without being clumsy—without saying, directly, “Joe felt so upset he wanted to die,” which takes you right into the heart of cliché? John Thornton Williams offers this suggestion:
“[Take] into consideration how a certain character would experience a particular setting or image based on his/her emotional state. Something as simple as a car parked on the street surely looks different to a lottery winner than to someone who just got evicted. In other words, indirection of image is a way to take abstract emotions and project them onto something concrete. Doing so creates the potential to explore interiority at a greater depth than what’s afforded by mere exposition.””
John Thornton Williams
According to another invaluable resource about characterization, tvtropes.org, character development is, by definition, the change in characterization of a Dynamic Character, who changes over the course of a narrative. At its core, it shows a character changing. Most narrative fiction in any media will feature some display of this.
tvtropes.org goes on to say that while the definition of “good” and “bad” character development is subjective, it’s generally agreed that good character development is believable and rounds out a well-written character. Bad character development leads to the feeling that someone is manipulating the events to their own whims, or even reduces the character’s believability.
There are many sub-tropes to discuss, some of which include:
- The Coming-of-Age Story is centered around this afore mentioned trope in the context of growing up.
- Darker and Edgier and Lighter and Softer can either deepen a character or round out unnecessary roughness. They can also turn them into a pile of mush or make them an unsympathetic jerk.
- Badass Decay can soften a previously harsh character. Or it can ruin an awesome character.
- Flanderization is when a character has a quirk or personality trait that slowly becomes their only defining characteristic.
- The Heel–Face Turn, Face–Heel Turn and Morality Adjustment tropes rely on character development to make this a believable turn of events.
- Hidden Depths has a character develop in unexpected directions. It can also describe a Flat Character turning into a Rounded Character.
- Out-of-Character Moment may be a positive or negative example, generally steering a character in new directions without wholesale Character Derailment.
- A Character Check can help steer a character who developed too far from their original character back into being themselves, or remind the audience that they still are the same person they used to be no matter how much they’ve changed. When combat factors into their development, then they Took a Level in Badass.
- A Jerk-to-Nice-Guy Plot is a specific form of character development where the character learns a lesson and takes a level in kindness.
These are hardly the only examples. The Evil Twin of Character Development is Character Derailment. Beware of this trope. To see the opposite of this trope, see Static Character. See also Flat Character and Rounded Character. Compare Hidden Depths, where something is revealed that was true all along, but would not have been visible before.
Check out this character development list, The Ultimate Character Questionnaire, by http://www.novel-software.com. It goes a bit more in depth, in the personality development section than I have seen in general character development lists. Check it out here. Good luck guys. I hope you create some amazing characters!
If you find this article fun, interesting and informative. If you decide to use this exercise -let me know how it went in the comment section below, and as usual…happy writing!