Process Writing

Building Character Part II

My last post about building character shows how you can take one set of character traits and project them onto any decision tree that your character faces… and that I have a thing for pizza. And cookies….

Taking the example from the previous blog post and building it into every interaction is what builds a character. A character doesn’t necessarily have to be consistent as long as they think they consistently follow their rules. This can be useful to build smaller conflict into the story through misunderstanding. Why is this important? Because it happens every day in real life:

  • How many times did you and a friend or family member have a tiff because one of you misunderstood the others’ good intentions? Think about how the miscommunication occurred.
  • If you take time to think about your own rules, you may discover that they’re crazy and contradictory, and often dependent on situation and company.
  • When a friend teases you about all the pizza you eat, maybe it doesn’t bother you because it’s all in good fun, but when a sibling does it, you’ll get angry.
  • You’re not always in a good mood, you’re not always in a bad one, either. Take notice about how interactions change not only depending on your temperament but those around you.
  • Your characters can’t be three-dimensional if you don’t allow them to be changeable, within a framework. Creating complete “real” people is unrealistic, but creating a scaffolding of basic rules for your character to follow is a great way to be consistent.
  • As writers, we can be over eager to move on to the next chapter. After an argument, how often do we move on and how often do we revisit what happened and try to create alternate endings in our heads? Our decisions haunt us. It’s important that our characters are affected and changed by the conflicts their decisions create: It’s how they grow.

Characters drive the story forward, their reactions are what create the conflict that the story is based on, so it’s important to me that they not make all the right decisions to drive the story just because that’s where I want it to go. That said, having a character too fearful to explore the haunted house in the first place doesn’t make for good story, unless you know that something will incite the haunting spirits to visit them anyway. Creating a natural story-arc for your characters is built on these decisions, conflicts, and not just the aftermath but how the character interprets it. If a character can’t grow, there is no story to tell.

When you’re writing, what are some things you think about when developing your characters?
When you’re reading what are some fatal flaws that cause you to give up on believing a character?
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