On Character Development: What was the thinking behind that?

We all want engaging characters who will grab the attention of our readers and entice them to keep reading.  Advice abounds. Books have been written, blogs posted, lists compiled – all to aide in the development of believable protagonists and antagonists (and secondary characters).

Many lists start with basics – the physical attributes of the character – name, age, how they dress, ‘quirky tick’. Other recommendations encourage us to delve into their background – where do they live? Where were they born? What is their vocation? Childhood, friends and family relationships can all help mold the character – either heroine or villian. All of the above can effect how a character will react to the various conflicts writers throw at them.

One writing mantra that is constantly drummed into my brain is:  use active not passive writing. Our characters must do things. The most elaborately created background and detailed descriptions will not make a character do something. Throwing plot twists at our heroine will not always guarantee she will be forced into action. For this, our characters must have motivation.

Ask the following questions:

  • What is their greatest desire, their motivation?
  • What does the character want – from people, from any situation?
  • Will outside influences alter these desires?
  • How far will they go to obtain it?
  • What will they do when their goal is realised?

By asking (and answering) the above, our characters should will evolve, revealing their personalities in response to the developing plot. This change should be ongoing. Ask the questions often; each interaction, every event has the potential to lead each character in a new direction, driving action and possibly altering our character’s motivation. From these little things, stories can grow.

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