Monday, January 2, 2012

Character Development

So, I recently read a post by my friend, Joe that he put up on his blog that's inspired me to talk about character development.  Joe talked about how the Sims game helps him in character development because of how character creation happens there: choosing personality traits to determine behavior and actions and also basing your character in a reality, where their physical, emotional and mental needs must be met.

This is all very true, and there's nothing wrong with choosing a personality and getting going.  But I like to delve a little deeper than simply what the character's personality is.  I like to get into why that's their personality, and to determine that, I like to look at their history, starting from the time their born and leading up to the moment your story begins.

Now, in another post I did a very basic overview of the information that you'd needed for all character, major, minor, good, bad...whatever.  You can find that link here.  But there's more than just those elements to a person; to a character.  There's so much more that contributes to someone's personality.  So here's where we'll start.

The first thing that I want you to do is go on Google (or yahoo or bing or whatever you use) and search up either personality traits or adjectives.  Either of these will do, though I think personality traits will fit your purpose better.  Find a nice long list that contains a wide range of different traits.  Some that might be helpful:  12.

Once you've picked your list, I want you to go through it and decide those traits that fit your character.  Try not to repeat meaning too much.  Sympathetic and Understanding are fairly similar terms and you won't need to select both.

Now, here's where we get into history.  I'm sure you already know some of what your character's history is like, so that'll help.

What I want you to do is to go through the traits that you've selected for your character and determine what it is that makes them that way; what reason do they have for that trait (now you see why you won't need a repetition in traits).  These are the things you should be looking at:

Positive Events in Character's History:  Is there anything positive in the character's history that has had an impact on their personality?  Something that someone did for them or something they saw happen.  Anything that would leave an impression on them.

Negative Events in Character's History:  Oppositely, is there anything negative in the character's history that has had an impact on their personality?  This would be where any kind of mental, physical or emotional abuse would fall, as well as individual events like accidents.

Home Environment:  Did your character grow up in a good, consistent environment?  Or were they moved around a lot?  Were they with loving parents/parental figures?  Were they cared for?

Social/School Environment:  Was your character the social sort?  Did they have friends in school?  Did they attend a public school?  Private school?  Home-schooled?  Were they ever teased or picked on?  Did they have a hard time fitting in?  Were they popular?

Current Environment:  At the point that the character is introduced to the story, what is their environment like?  Is it the same as before?  Or is it different?

Sexual Orientation:  I've gotten a lot of crap in the past for putting as much weight as I do on a character's sexual orientation, but I'll explain this as best I can to try to get my point across.  A character's orientation can play a role in the same way that anything else can based on how it's handled and the environment that it's raised in.  If a lesbian is raised in a homophobic environment, it can lead to her being introverted, shy and worried about the judgement of the world around her.  She'll be "closeted" about her sexuality and may become defensive whenever sexuality is brought up as a topic of conversation.  However, take that same girl and raise her in an accepting and loving environment and it can lead to a totally different personality; one in which she's open about her sexuality and comfortable and self-accepting.  I hope I've explained that in a way that lets you see my point.

Controversy in Their Life:  This is one that links to just about all of the others.  I'll explain what it is.  Controversies would be anything that makes the character feel conflicted.  Let's use a social example: if the character has always been friends with a girl that grows up to be a cheerleader, but she grows up to want to join the band, that could cause her controversy.  She may feel as though she can't do both and, for that reason, she has to decide to join band and possibly move farther from her friend or to become a cheerleader and not do the thing she wants to do.  This is a small example, but there are all sorts of controversies in people's lives, involving their romantic life, their work life, their home life...  Conflict has a huge impact on us.

There's so much more that I could get into, but I think I've given you a good idea of what you're looking for.  This is something you could do backwards or forwards; there's no right way.  Either determine your character's traits and figure out what made them who they are, or decide their history and then work out their traits based on that history.  I encourage everyone to at least give this method a try for a main character and see if it helps.  I know it can be a little confusing and could take a lot of thinking and effort to finish, but I think it'd be worth at least trying.

Thanks to everyone that's made it to the end of this post.  I hope I haven't bored you to death and given you something to think about: your character's personality can be obvious, but that doesn't always mean you know what makes them who they are.

Best of luck in your writing.
~Maddi J


  1. What a fun exploration of character development! The possibilities are boundless- I'm going to use this idea-the fist five traits I come across, I'm going to develop into the main character of my next short story. ~ Jess

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I hope that it works out for you. I always enjoy working out why my characters are the way that they are. I think it adds a new level to them and their personality. And sorry for the late reply: I haven't really checked in on my blog a lot lately.