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Character Development: What Does That Mean?

April 13, 2015

When telling a story, be it a novel, a screenplay, or even a song, you need to create characters that your audience can relate to, or at the very least, one they will like. There are many things that go into developing your characters, most of which your audience will never read. It’s background for you so that you know your characters inside and out. So that you know how your characters will react in any given situation.

First and foremost, as I mentioned above, your hero has to be likeable and relatable. “But what about the villain? Surely you can’t be talking about him.” Yes, the villain needs to have a relatable trait. Something the audience can identify with, even if it’s something they don’t like. Think of the characters you’ve really hated in other stories. Why did you dislike them so much? Was it because they reminded you of someone in your life? Someone you really have distain for? Most likely. And let’s not forget that every villain is a hero in his own mind. The villain doesn’t believe he is doing wrong. He believes he is righting a huge injustice in the world and will stop at nothing to correct it.

Next, your character needs some sort of flaw. “But my hero is strong,” you say. “She is an independent, confident woman. What flaws could she possibly have?” None of us are perfect, therefore we cannot relate to a perfect character. It may be easy to come up with a flaw for the villain, the antagonist, but it’s not always easy to find the hero’s flaw. Let’s stick with the independent and confident theme. What flaw could a character like that have? How about arrogance? “But arrogance is so unattractive,” you say. Not for a comedy. “But I’m a dramatic writer.” Okay, what about insecurity? An overconfident person often times uses that confidence to cover up insecurity. Now you’ve got a character with layers! What does she have to be insecure about? Dig deeper. Uncover that secret.

What does your character want? It’s that want that drives him. Goals are very important to character development. Without a want your character will wonder aimlessly through your story. No matter how funny, sad, or exciting your character’s actions may be, your audience will grow bored if she isn’t striving to reach a goal. Without a goal your story is just a ‘slice of life’ story. Why pay $12 for a movie ticket? You can get that kind of entertainment by hanging out at your local Wal-Mart

Needs! Your character must have a need and often times it will not be exactly what she wants. Her need may coincide with her want, but it might not be it exactly. Say your character wants to be happy in her marriage. What she needs, maybe, is to find a new husband. Or perhaps she wants a promotion at work, but what she needs is to love her work again. Or maybe he’s just found out his wife is having an affair and what he wants is to have his old life back. But what he needs is to be happy with himself and stop seeking happiness outside of himself.

These are things that are going to give your characters more depth, more layers. It will make them more compelling. No one likes two-dimensional characters. Dig into your characters’ lives. Find out what drives them. Find out what happened to them to make them the way they are. Everyone has a story. Your characters should, too. Until next week, happy writing.

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  1. Developing Your Characters | The Dialogue Architect

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