To me, character development is the most important part of crafting a good story. If you do not have an authentic character whom your readers can relate to, then you don't really have a story. The story (plot) comes from the character, their internal and external conflicts. Those conflicts are what moves the plot along, so it is crucial to spend time getting to know and developing your characters.
We spent a lot of time in class on character development, and one of the assignments was to create a character inventory and character interview for one (or more) character(s) in a piece you are currently working on. I always think it's a good idea to write freely for a while, not worrying about things like character development, until your basic ideas are fleshed out. Doing that helps you to create your novel's world and the people in it. After you have done this and feel like you have the world some what fleshed out, it's useful to do some character development exercises. Something new or something more always comes from such exercises, and if you have gotten stuck after 30-50 pages, I say it's time for a character development exercise. Because as I said, good plot comes from good characters, and good ideas ALWAYS come from character development.
After you read Linda's quick inventory below, you will notice that it provides Linda with some background for this character’s life and story, background she didn't "discover" until she completed the exercise. Most of the information she learns about "Edward" won’t go directly into the piece, but Linda will have this in the back of her mind when she creates scenes.All this information will help her develop and flesh out her characters.
As she compiled this, she discovered that "Edward's" least favorite place was a hospital. So that’s becomes interesting. Why? She can answer that through the story.
32 years old; 6’1’’, 220 lbs (basically slender and fit; is this slender?), dimple in middle of chin, Mom, Dad, younger sister and younger brother, son, daughter, wife of 9 years, greatest fear = failure, biggest accomplishment = children, favorite place = beach, least favorite place = hospital, obsessions = everything must be perfect, enemies = only those clients whose cases he’s lost, best friend = ZERO
32 year old, 5’8’’, 175 pounds (is this slender and fit?), mole on left side above lip, twin sister Jessica, older twin brothers Mark and Matt, Mom and Dad, Edward and children, greatest fear = death, greatest accomplishment = marrying successful lawyer, favorite place = mall, least favorite place = crowds, traffic, obsession = her looks (vanity), enemies = ZERO, best friend = twin sister.
The following is another example of a character inventory. Notice again some interesting details that the writer can flesh out into a scene or story. Keep in mind that this writer (okay, it was me) already has written about 50 pages of this novel, but she found herself a little stuck. When that happens, I think it's a good time to check in and see how well you know your characters. Perhaps you are stuck because they haven't been fully fleshed out in your mind. So, stop, drop, and do a character inventory, as Linda did, and/or a "character interview". Read on for my own examples of both
Weight/height/unusual physical marks: 120, 5’5’’, mole on left shoulder blade
Family: Parents divorced, mother Jackie (artist), Gram (retired teacher), Pop Pop (retired dentist), father Jerry (Lawyer). No sibs.
Greatest Fear: marriage
Biggest accomplishment: getting into law school
Favorite/Least Favorite Place: her car, Vinny’s house
Obsessions: school work
Best Friend: four girls from high school
Religion: raised Jewish
Favorite food: grilled pizza
Education: BA Government
"Tiger Beat Questionnaire"
In 1967, the editors of Tiger Beat Magazine devised a set of questions for the Monkees. Movies Rocks put these questions to celebrities. Use this to interview the main character your fiction piece. I did this for "Sylvia".
1. How would your mother describe you in one word? pent up maybe, tense? hardworking, definitely
2. What is your favorite flower? day lily
3. What is the most insane question you’ve ever been asked. Will you marry me?
4. What word in the English language do you wish you had invented? tenacity
5. Where would you like to live? By the ocean
6. What is the first quote that comes to your mind? Always make sure you can take care of yourself- my mother
7. What animal best describes the kind of girl/boy you’d be interested in? A large, friendly, loyal cute dog
8. What do you miss about your childhood? My parents being together and seeming happy
9. If you could change your name, what would you change it to? Sophia, like my Gram
10. What is the main fault of your character? (nature) I repress what I feel.
11. Who is your favorite historical figure? Elenore Roosevelt– all brains
12. Describe how you kiss in one word? Deliberate
13. If you met the right person today, would you propose tomorrow? No
14. What in the world do you least desire? Marriage
15. Why do most girls/guys date you? I'm smart, I'm not clingy
16. Fill in the sentence.: “Happiness is a thing called…” I don’t know. Peace, maybe?
To me, some of these answers beg the question, why? It's those answers I want to explore in the piece and write a scene from. For example, in the inventory she says she fears marriage and her least favorite place is Vinny's house (her boyfriend). The answers to both could make an entire book. In the interview, she says she least desires marriage and the main fault of her nature is she represses her feelings. Again, both beg the question why and those answers can be revealed in the plot.
So, try out these exercises and post your comments!