Pronunciation Guide

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Character Development -- Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote about how I first come up with a character. You can read that post here. Today, we are on “D” for development!

Once I have a character and a basic idea of personality, appearance, and role in the story, I set to the very fun task of figuring out their story. A lot of it evolves as I write. I’ll be writing a scene, for instance, and they’ll say something that strikes me as, “Now, why do they think that? Why do they believe that? Why are they acting like that?”

“Why?” is a great question for a writer. So is “How?” (As in, “How would someone who has been through _____ react? How would that alter their behavior, their mindset?”) People have reasons for doing what they do, being how they are, and I believe characters should too. Everyone has been through something that changed them; everyone has wounds and beliefs and fears that led to certain behaviors. Characters, again, should be the same. Oftentimes, parents or peers wound a person, so I figure that stuff out too. Don’t just make your characters a certain way for the sake of them being like that – give them a reason! Even if they don’t understand it themselves, you as the writer need to understand.

Masrekah (Mas) is a good example of all of this. He was simply a backstory guy who pursued Rab and ended up giving her a complex about men. I had the very basic information about him (appearance, age, bits of personality), and I wrote the scene (which takes place three years before the story starts). As I went through and tweaked it – actually, I think it was when I transferred it from third person to first – I added one specific exchange between them. Quick recap: Mas wants to marry Rab, and she has refused unless he takes her sister with them. He’s not liking that deal…

            “I’m just afraid for my sister,” I said. “Do you – don’t you have siblings that you love?”
            He blinked. “No.”
            My heart sank. “You don’t love them, or you don’t have any?”
            Again, he remained as unyielding and impenetrable as stone. “They’re all dead.”
            I opened my mouth, then hesitated. There was only coldness in his eyes, but for some reason, my chest ached all the same. “I’m sorry,” I said again. “And your parents?”
            He didn’t move, not even to blink now. Ice radiated from him, and a shiver prickled through me.

“They’re all dead.” That was unexpected. It made me feel bad for him. And suddenly, OH MY GOSH, that rude, violent, jerkface of a guy became incredibly interesting to me. My mind exploded. “He has a family, but they’re all dead. Why are they dead? What happened to them? When did they die? Why doesn’t he like to talk about it? Why is he so cold about it? Did he see it? Did he have something to do with it? Does it hurt him to think about? How old was he when this happened? jalksdfjaeirgjaierjg!!!!”

From that one line, Mas stuck a knife in my heart. I figured out his backstory, and I couldn’t forget about him. I liked the iciness in him, so when the idea came to have him in the actual story, I intensified that attitude. The more I’ve written him (if you don’t know, he has become an extremely main character), the more he has developed. I decided it would be awesome if he became a good guy, but in order for him to turn good, something big and traumatic had to happen. So I figured out what it was and worked out the timeline. The struggle of being a good, changed guy forced to keep up the charade of badness has added even more to his character and personality. People have told me that Mas is their favorite character so far, and it is because of the depth of his personality and the redemption in him (even though he doesn’t see it yet).

Another thing I’m trying to do more of is give everyone their little quirks, often displayed in dialogue scenes. Sorek especially has a few certain things he says numerous times, and he laughs or snickers when he is uncomfortable or in pain (which is usually an inappropriate time to laugh). Someone pointed out that Mas has more of a dry sense of humor, while Sorek is snarky, so I’m playing up on both of those. Mas is also, on the whole, more refined and polite than Sorek in how he speaks. Rab is always on the defensive and often speaks with a biting undertone. Because of abuse, Ari has learned never to give non-verbal responses to direct questions. She also stutters, especially when nervous or afraid.

Another thing I do is figure out how characters feel toward other characters and believe others feel toward them. Mas (rightly) believes that Rab hates him, so he is instinctively colder toward her because he is steeling himself for her rejection and rage. Yet everything in his personality softens when it comes to Ari, for he views her as innocent and sweet. Not only is this visible in scenes between him and Ari, but other characters notice it too, and each of them have different ideas about what it means. Rab is more sarcastic toward Sorek than she is with anyone else. Sorek flirts with Rab alllllll the time, mostly subconsciously. Rab and Ari are sweet toward each other, but when it comes to their mom, Rab is fierce, and Ari is defeated. I also utilize “love languages,” which are different ways that people give and like to receive love. (Physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, giving gifts.)

There are millions of ways to develop a character and add depth. These are just a few of my common avenues. I hope this has proven interesting, and I hope it helps you with your own character development. =)

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