You always meet with something surprisingly great when you give a little bit of yourself. I facilitated my first NaNoWriMo write-in session yesterday and found the experience inspiring and uplifting.
My workshop on “character development” turned into a lively discussion about character history, motivations, conflicts and evolution. We also touched on the relationship between the writer and his/her characters, as well as the challenges of knowing when to let your characters run free and when to reign them back. Everyone in the room offered unique insights to the discussion, and when it was over, I was bubbling with new ideas for my own work and a re-energized outlook on my place in the world as a writer.
I want to give a shout-out to everyone who came out to write with us yesterday. We writers tend to be cave creatures, but when we do emerge and come together to examine and appreciate the thing that we love, the craft to which we give so much of our selves, magic happens.
Most readers prefer to be drawn-in by narratives with intriguing characters with whom they can relate rather than complicated plot-driven stories that lack well-established characters. The more rounded your characters are, the more believable they are and the more empathy you’ll be able to elicit from your readers.
Below are a few points to consider when you’re creating a new character.
Know your character’s personal history. Focus on the experiences and memories that define the character’s personality and existential place in the world.
Don’t just include random information, instead zero-in on the pivotal moments that shape your character’s decision-making process, allowing past experiences to inform future behaviors.
Include memories, good and bad, that your character revisits when he/she is alone, afraid, joyful, angry, resentful or envious.
If your character has quirky traits or a phrase that he/she repeats often, then it should be something profound, alarming or interesting enough to add to his/her overall development and drive the plot forward.
Exercise restraint when using this device, the occasional, well-placed quirky trait or phrase is always more powerful than randomly scattered ones.
What does your character look like? Focus on something unique or play with the idea of appearances playing a role in the outcome of conflicts and/or plot twists.
Consider the possibility that the character’s perception of self may not align with how he/she actually appears to others.
Interesting characters are usually caught in a moment of indecision or near-decision at some rest stop along the highway of their inner journey, consider the factors that propel your character towards or away from his/her intended destination.
What or whom is your character willing to risk to achieve his/her goals?
Perhaps it would be more satisfying if he/she were to meet with failure instead of success.
All characters face external conflicts, but the more interesting ones harbor deep-rooted internal ones.
Do the conflicts in your story satisfactorily disturb your character’s ability to self-actualize?
For better or worse, every character should undergo change throughout your narrative. A character’s evolution should be something that readers can track and understand: what events inspired this change, how much has he/she changed, does this change work with or against the momentum of the plot, etc.
By going through a personal evolution, does your character also affect change on his/her world and/or other people in it?
Evolution, by its nature, is gradual. Change shouldn’t happen spontaneously. It should be something your character earns throughout the narrative.
If you get your kicks from discussing the mannerisms, behaviors and back stories of people who don’t exist, then I’m your gal!
I’ll be leading a workshop on character development as well as facilitating the National Novel Writing Month session on Tuesday, November 20, 2018 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m at the San Luis Obispo Library (995 Palm St.). Come with your novel and spend the afternoon writing with your fellow novelists.