What are your views on Character Development? How much emphasis do you put on your primary and secondary characters?
From my own experiences, I am going to discuss a little of what is important for me in developing characters. There is no right or wrong way and it can all differ based on the type of story you write, its length, genre, style etc.
The Character Now:
In setting out a story whether based around a character, event, etc, the reader will discover the character in a certain time frame. They will be of a certain age, in a specific time or place in their life, single, married, have a family, employed, unemployed, in prison, dying, their beliefs/views, and so on. It is important that the reader understands where the character is at the present moment, as they will begin a journey from this point forwards or backwards depending on the style of the story. Draw comparisons to our own lives. We are all on a journey and we grow as we get older. We evolve over time, changed by our environment, circumstances and life. Situations and circumstances might alter our view on life, perhaps making us see things differently both positively and negatively. We can become bitter with life, depressed, despise certain things or form a great love and respect for life after some harrowing event or accident. All of this leads to my next point, which I feel is the most important aspect in character development and that is the “Back Story”.
Character Back Story:
Each of us has a history and the same applies to our characters. Our history is what helps define us and our outlook in life. Without it we are almost two dimensional. Your type of story will determine how much of the character’s back story will be revealed. If you are writing a short story or flash fiction the time does not allow for a strong development of a character, however it is important I feel that the character should at least be given a name or some form of identity to help the reader relate. I like a back story to be introduced gradually throughout a story as it is like bringing the reader on a secondary journey with the character. The reader should be allowed to develop a relationship with the character so they can truly understand the emotional thought process and why they take certain actions in different situations. Building a strong back story will bring the character to the current moment in the story where the reader will find them. On saying that, do not reveal too much so easily. To keep the interest of the reader you should allow for some mystery, keep the reader questioning but not too much as it will lead to confusion. Finding a balance is important.
My comment on character descriptions I am sure will be argued against by other writers, however I have my reasons. I believe in not providing full detailed physical character descriptions. In my novel, “Landed Estate”, I set out not to provide distinct character descriptions for the main protagonist Susanna Westby or even the secondary characters. I believe if a character is developed strongly, showing their emotional state, their thought process, their interactions with other characters, etc, this can provide a good sense of what the character is like, allowing the reader to create their own image. There is nothing worse for me when reading a book to create an image of a character only to have it altered by a descriptive reference later on by the writer. On saying that there is nothing wrong with giving slight descriptions for example, “she had a slight shake in her right hand”, “he had a limp in his left leg”, “the sun highlighted her auburn hair”, etc.
A suggestion I offer, if you wish to provide character descriptions and I use this technique, is to have your characters give a description through their eyes. In life each of us will see people differently whether they are our family, friends, acquaintances, lovers or complete strangers. By knowing the character who is observing another in the story the reader will make up their own mind whether this is a truthful description based on the relationship the two characters have.
My final point in this post will be based on the personal journey the character should take throughout the story. The reader discovers the character at a certain point in their life and as the story progresses the character must grow and learn as we do in our own lives. I love writing my main characters, if I did not, I could not write them. Whether they are the protagonist or antagonist, I love them both equally. When I write a minor character that I do not particularly like there will be a biased in that character, lack of development, even I am not too bothered in what happens with that character. This cannot be allowed for main characters. Personal development, life lessons, emotional and spiritual growth must all happen to make the character a fully rounded individual. Based on the type of story you write, it does not necessarily mean that the character’s growth will be positive; it can also be negative even to change the character and their outlook in life.
A reminder that you can download a free Character Development Sheet from to assist in building a round and detailed character by clicking HERE.
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