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Character Development - You Are Your Own Best Character
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I've read hundreds of character development tips, and most are very good. Making a list of character features is great, but generally your characters come from you. I'm not suggesting you make all your characters the same, but I am suggesting that most of your characters come from your personal experience.
How do I begin character development?
Start with yourself. Put yourself in a situation in which you wouldn't normally be involved. What would you do if you were walking down the street and a midget wearing a mask pulled a knife and stabbed you in the knee. Would you cry, laugh, scream, or gimp away as fast as your injured knee could carry you? Why did he do the dirty deed? What did you do to make him mad? Is he mad enough to keep stabbing you as you run away? How will you get help?
Write five or six paragraphs about the situation mentioned above without putting any physical characteristics into either character or any other characters that enter the scene. Use only those descriptions already mentioned. Use action to describe the scene. What did you imagine? How much damage was done?
Go ahead and do the above exercise. I'll wait.
I'm still waiting...
Are you done?
Okay, now describe each character as you imagined them. In your mind's eye you developed a vision of your characters as the action proceeded. Write down those qualities. Congratulations, you are on your way to character development.
Many qualities are defined by the actions of your protagonist and antagonist. Many times I leave the details to the reader. Most people have an idea how a smart beautiful woman looks. Let them enjoy their vision. Use only descriptions that are necessary for the story. Don't get bogged down in unnecessary details.
One hard fast rule I always keep is to make the character consistent. Once a characteristic is set don't change it. Don't change the protagonist in mid-story unless there is an important lesson to be learned by the change. People are creatures of habit. Don't change the character to fit the story. Change the story to fit the character. If the protagonist isn't able to accomplish his goal, maybe you need to introduce a helper.
What does your protagonist need to accomplish. What are his fears. What are the obstacles to his happiness. What does he fear worse than death? What does he love more than life itself?
What is the hero's self image. Is he filled with self loathing? Is he egotistical?
People read fiction to be entertained. They don't want to be bored by minutiae. They want to experience joy, fear, love, hate, triumph, or a myriad of other emotions. Use action to gain insight into your characters. They won't let you down.
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