The essence of any story is characters in conflict. To increase that conflict, or at least make it more interesting, some of those characters need depth.
Most of my writing has been limited to short stories. That form doesn’t provide room to dig much into a character’s background or motivations, at most a couple hints here and there. So when it came time to work on my novel this month, I didn’t have a lot of experience with developing characters. In prior months, I’d jotted down a few notes. This character’s parents died in an accident. This character’s brother saved him when they were kids and has suffered ill effects ever since. But I never fully developed them, probably because I didn’t know how.
I’ve attempted to read up on the subject. A Writer’s Path posted an interesting exercise titled Things I ask My Characters. By way of an interview, the author can get to know his/her character’s. The same blog then posted 3 Ways to Flesh Out Your Character’s Motivations as an additional exercise guide.
For a more classical view, Andrea Lundgren analyzed Victor Hugo’s techniques in Writing Lessons from Les Mis: Characterization.
ProWritingAid has had a series of blog posts this year examining Oscar Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint. The most recent is How to Nail Third-Person Narrative. I found these lessons helpful. This is a book I wanted to read last year when first starting to seriously write, but the book is out of print. Coincidence or fate?
Since I’m new to the novel writing, and thus character development, thing, what I don’t know is what works better for me. Should I develop full backstories for my characters before starting the novel? I am a plotter after all. Or should I come up with a few key points for each character and see what else the story demands these character be? That seems to be more a pantser technique, though it provides the greatest flexibility when writing.
For my current WIP, I’m following the latter course by necessity. I may wind up determining that after the first draft, I need to think through each character again and fill in their stories as I conduct an initial edit.
Let me know in the comments how your develop your characters. Do you map out their entire lives first, or do you wait and let the story dictate who your characters really are?
Photo credit: aixklusiv via Pixabay