Wordy Wednesday: Character Development Tricks

Heads up that I’m writing this Tuesday evening, because I have a big project due in my screenwriting class Wednesday (and, like, procrastination is fun).

I spent this past weekend at home with my family for Memorial Day. We played lots of Wii U games and ate a thousand tons of ice cream and it was really nice. Now I’m back at school, I just got off work, and a freak rainstorm has trapped me at No Thai. (Not the worst place to be, except I already finished eating and it smells so good and NO YOU DO NOT NEED MORE SPRING ROLLS DON’T YOU DARE.)

SO MUCH IS HAPPENING THIS WEEK. Ch1Con just announced another speaker (Kaye M.!), our blog tour is finishing up, and Thursday I’m off to BEA and Bookcon in NYC!

Speaking of which: As always when I get to attend big writing events, I’ll be blogging throughout the weekend. HOWEVER, I’m probably not bringing my laptop with me this year, so warning that the posts will likely be short and a little typo-ridden (because iPhone). But I promise I WILL blog!

Anyway. This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

So, one of the things that can be hardest to get across without straight up handing things to the reader (aka: the accursed “telling”) is character development. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of having your protagonist look in a mirror, or just outright tell the reader his or her entire life story out of context of the scene at hand, or something else unsavory.

However, there are also some easy ways of avoiding those weak methods of developing your characters. The trick is to focus on the things around your character rather than your character him/herself. For example:

Bedroom/Locker/Car/Etc.

So I’m not going to take a picture of my current bedroom, because it’s a bit of a mess (I’m mid-BEA packing), but this is what it looks like: Lots of bright colors, walls coated in posters and white boards and photo collages, with a zigzag of white Christmas lights across the ceiling. I have two bookcases, both overflowing, and there’s an exercise mat by my door that I have long since given up putting away. My bed is all fleece blankets and cuddly pillows, and my desk is buried under notebooks and Ch1Con flyers.

You can tell a ton about me from my room, and the same goes for your characters. Maybe your protagonist doesn’t do well with mess, so she keeps her room neat and clean. Or maybe he loves Star Wars, so his room is coated in movie posters and figurines. And within these types of traits is a second, deeper layer of development: If she’s a neat freak, chances are she’s also a very responsible, orderly person, and that’ll dictate how she acts and reacts throughout your story; if his entire room is coated in Star Wars, that shows that he’s a fanboy and nerdy and can be obsessive about things.

You can use this method with other spaces your protag occupies, as well. Think locker, car–really anywhere that is his or her own.

Appearance

I talked about this one already in a previous post (read it here), but basically: The way your characters dress, wear their hair, etc. (and why) says a lot about them. Maybe your protagonist has to wear a uniform to school, so he likes to wear really bright, crazy stuff on the weekends. Or maybe your protagonist really likes music, so she wears a bunch of band merch. Is your character trendy or classic? Does she prefer dresses or jeans? All of these things can help you flesh out your characters.

Name

Names are a little tricky, because they define the parents as much as the kid. But does your protagonist choose to stick with his long, formal first name even though he easily could go by a nickname? Or does your protagonist’s friends call her by a different nickname than her family does? How does your protagonist refer to him or herself? What does s/he think of his/her name? All these things go a long way towards helping you pin down your characters’ personalities for the reader.

**********

What are some of your favorite ways of developing your characters?

Talk to you this weekend!

~Julia

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2 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday: Character Development Tricks

  1. Wii U, Thai food, rainstorms, and ice cream, huh? My past week has been very similar…Thanks for posting on character development, I’m forever looking for ways to improve mine. I often use dialogue to develop my characters, despite being (mostly) not too great with dialogue. Orion, in particular, is developed mainly through dialogue, since he’s a weird, somewhat comical character. Another thing that works, especially for my MC, is to put them in a situation where they have to make a tough choice and see how they react. Forcing them to decide between, say, saving a friend and a chance to defeat a villain is always effective. Especially when you’ve got a character who’ll decide to take the third option and somehow do both…

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