Write on, Wednesday: Developing Characters

By Leslie Lindsay

I have been reading these great books from Writer’s Digest Books, their “Write Great Fiction” series.  In this particular title, Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint:  Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints (2005), the author Nancy Kress gives us readers (writers?) a checklist for developing characters.

Here it is:

  • Your four sources for drawing characters:  yourself, people you know, strangers you hear or read about, and pure imagination.  Modify them if they are you, people you know, even strangers to some degree.  Don’t make it too transparent.
  • List of potential characters?  Choose a protangonist. 
  • Now, study your “cast of characters.”  Are they interesting?  Diverse?  Are you excited to write about them?  Do they connect to your protagonist in a realistic manner?
  • No matter how much backstory is presented in the narrative, you should have a clear picture of each character’s past. 
  • Your character’s motivation should grow out of his/her backstory.  More unusual motivation–>more backstory.  (helps create emotion)
  • Interesting characters hold conflicting values and/or desires.  “Help” readers select the character’s personalities and belief systems
  • Your character(s) “ought” to make some changes in her belief system as the story progresses, but they need to perhaps reach the goal, or decide on a new one.  Changes must seem plausible in light of story events
  • Humorous characters are created through exaggeration, ridicule, and reversal of expectations.  Mild–medium–or outragous form, depending on the effect you are going for

Good luck and have fun crafting your characters…write on!