Category: character development

Is it okay to have chapters full of character development even if they don’t make the plot progress?

Honestly, it’s okay to do whatever you want to do. If you’re wondering whether or not people will like chapters focused solely on character development, then I have good news for you. Because plot and character are designed to be linked together, I bet that your character-development chapters are doing more for your plot than you realize. Regardless, let’s break down different types of “character-development” scenes and see where you’re at. 

Character Development vs. Characters Arcs

I think this is a good place to start with this post. Every novel should have a plot or subplot that explores the main character’s transformation. And yes, you better have a transformation of some kind. For a story to be effective, the plot should be big enough that it changes your characters in some way. Think about who they are at the beginning and imagine how their experiences throughout the novel change them. This is what creates your character arc

Character development is such a big, bold term that many of us just throw around to describe anything character related. But let’s look a little deeper. Development is about shaping and molding your characters, as if you were sculpting them from a mound of clay. The more details you include, the more vivid the character. And when you do something unexpected with these details (avoiding cliched characters), you create pieces of art that intrigue readers and make them like the character even more. Development is your process of defining the character. 

You know you’ve done your job well when you (the writer) can predict a character’s actions or reactions in any situation, regardless of whether or not that situation actually occurs in the novel. Challenge yourself with this. What would they do as a bystander in an armed robbery? How would they react to losing their job? What would they say if they discovered someone had lied to them? 

This is what character development is. When it comes to character development within your novel, you’re attempting to translate what you already know about your character to your readers. The most effective way to do this is to show it. Put them in scenarios that reveal who they are. 

If you’re spending entire chapters simply listing a character’s attributes and describing how they respond to vague situations and scenarios, then you’re telling. This is where I would caution a writer to avoid chapters entirely devoted to development. Readers don’t want character traits to be relayed to them; they want them to be demonstrated. 

Character Development Scenes

Alrighty, moving ahead. So we’ve eliminated scenes where you’re simply writing a character description. What about scenes where you do show who the character is? What if you write that armed robbery scene to show how they respond in a tense situation, and it turns out that this armed robbery has no bearing on the rest of the plot? Is this okay? 

It can be. Assuming the reaction to the armed robbery leads to change. Because in any challenging moment, a character will experience an immediate action and a followup action. The immediate action encompasses what they do in the moment. Did they try to disarm the person? Did they attempt to alert the police in secret? Did they try to run away? The followup action is how they approach new decisions given this new experience. The fear of death in that situation may lead them to take action against other (plot-related) events in their life. They may receive an injury that impedes their progress or forces them to adapt. All of this impacts how the character approaches the internal and external conflicts. In other words, the armed robbery served to move the plot forward, despite its initial disconnect from the main event. 

Maybe the character-development scenes you’re thinking of are less intense. Maybe they’re introspective walks or light-hearted conversations. 

For the latter, remember that dialogue should be purposeful. A humorous jab or quippy exchange is delightful and fun to read, but if you’re going to spend a lot of page real estate on nothing but playful banter between characters, you better be building to something. Good examples of this would be the relationship eventually falling apart or being challenged.

When it comes to introspection, you should be building to a decision. A character that thinks back through recent events should be doing so in an effort to devise a strategy. An introspective walk should be because “Hell, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Maybe if I take a walk and clear my head, I’ll figure it out.” When they’re thinking, they’re preparing to act. And that is related to your plot in a BIG way. 

The Flashback 

Okay, I’ve been answering questions on Tumblr for over 4 years now, and this has come up many times. The flashback is the number one culprit for gratuitous character development. We writers take a considerable amount of time coming up with complex backstories for our characters and nothing kills us more than spending time on material that no one ever gets to see. So it’s only natural that we push to include flashbacks in our novels, so that we not only get to write these exciting histories, but readers get to enjoy them too. 

Often, the problem is that whatever past is being shared in the flashback has no bearing on the current conflict. Whatever it is has long since been resolved. So writers start to get worried that the flashback fails to move the plot forward, which is something they’re told that every single scene should do. 

Obviously novels where past events affect the present timeline should have flashbacks. These are novels where timelines are interspersed to tell a complete story. One of my favorite novels I read this past year was The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton, which features dual timelines. Eventually the past catches up to the present, and we move forward for the rest of the novel. This type of situation is definitely okay. 

Flashbacks that do nothing but reveal something of the character’s past can work…as long as that flashback is contributing to the character arc. Remember, our character arc is showcasing our character’s transformation. If you can justify this flashback as being relevant to where the character started and how they will change, then it will probably work without being superfluous. 

Plot Development Can Be Unpredictable

In spite of all this, don’t forget that your plot evolves as your character evolves. We often don’t really know our characters until we start writing them. This means that any plot decision we’ve already made can change in a heartbeat as our character’s development takes an unexpected turn. Be willing to adapt to these changes and let your character development impact what happens. 

Characters should affect your plot. So when you look at that way, a scene that focuses on character development always has the potential to move your plot forward. 

-Rebekah

Hm, I’m actually having quite a bit of trouble trying to fully flesh out a character’s personality. Is there any tips you could give to help with developing main character personalities?

Character Development

One thing all readers and writers can agree on is that character development is an integral part of a story. We need to believe this character as a person. We need a reason to care about them.

Here are a few things I suggest if you’re having trouble developing a character:

  • First decide who you want this character to be. Are they a jokester? An intellectual? A bad boy? The mom friend? They’ll need specific traits to display this character type. These traits will dictate their actions. What would an intellectual do if they saw someone fall over? What would a bad boy say to his friend if they just won the lottery?
  • Consider your plot. This relates to the previous point; what kind of person is your character and why? Who do you need them to be for the story? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Memories? Hopes and dreams? Beliefs? How do these things affect their personality? Their actions, their voice? How do they use all of this to achieve their goal?
  • Complete character sheets. You can find loads with a quick google search! Character sheets ask personal questions about your character that will help you figure out where they’ve come from and why they are the way they are. A fun thing I do is come up with little facts that may not be directly relevant to the story, but that build a character into a real person. For example, I pick their star sign, their favourite colour, least favourite food, etc.
  • Complete a Myers Briggs test as your character. Make use of the 16 MBTI personality types. It may help you understand how your character would react, think and behave in certain situations. It’s important, however, to remember that no person fits into a perfect little box. People are multi-faceted and are capable of tremendous change and growth. Give your characters the chance to grow!
  • Take inspiration from others. Maybe people you’ve met. Maybe pre-existing characters. Not to say you should write your cousin into the story, but you can take little habits of theirs and put it into your characters.
  • Love them! It is important to remember your story and characters are fictional, but giving love to them will show in the writing. It will make your story fun to write!

I also recommend checking out the tumblr blog @characterdevelopmentforwriters. They post niche questions that get you thinking about your characters in a fun way.

Good luck!

Cait 🙂

Write a story where, by the end, it’s hard to tell who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy; Any advice is welcome

We may venture into a little bit of philosophy here, so beware!

Determining Good Verses Bad

The first thing you need to consider is what you actually want out of your story. Does there need to be a good guy and a bad guy? Sometimes there are none. Some of the most interesting characters are the ones whose moral alignment is indeterminable. Such a character will keep your readers guessing.  

If you do want a clear hero and villain, figure out what qualifies as good and bad in your story.

Say your story is about people fighting to stop an old building from being demolished. Maybe this impending demolition is so they can build a new school, which the protesters are selfishly getting in the way of. Or, perhaps the building is a safe house the protesters are trying to protect from a big corporation. Why is the right thing right? Why is the wrong thing wrong?What determines the good from the bad often depends on the point of view from which the story is being told. This, as well as the way it’s portrayed.

That in mind, who is your protagonist? What are they trying to accomplish? What do they have to do to get it? Do they succeed? Who is in their way? What is at stake? What do they lose? How do they interact with others in the story? Why?    

Sometimes your narrator is the villain and their rivalry is the hero. Either way, your narrator needs to believe they are doing the right thing. A well written villain may even be able to convince your readers they are doing the right thing e.g. Light Yagami from Death Note. Stories like this can raise questions of morality.

Good luck!

-Cait  

Hey plotlinehotline, sorry to bother, but I really need help. I’m currently trying to rewite a book I’ve started about a year ago and then left half unfinished. After going over my notes I found back to the story. I like it but it’s kinda boring and it and the main character feel flat and boring. What can I do to make them more interesting. Do you have any tips for me? Thank you very mucg

Dealing With a Boring Character

Friend, I’ll get to your specific questions about your plot and characters in a moment, but first, here’s some general advice about tackling an abandoned draft. Think about why you started writing this story. You might already remember, since you want to rewrite it, but consider this question anyway, in case you want to set it aside again. Did the characters grab you? The setting? The plot? Does this book send a message that’s important to you? Whatever that reason is, write it down. Keep it nearby, so you have it on hand when you feel unsure.

Next, think about why you stopped writing. It might have been a crazy life event–those happen, and if so it’s no fault of your own. But it might have been something deeper. You say the plot and characters feel boring. Did you sense that while you were writing the first time? Or was it something else? Did your plot run into a wall? Did you feel unsure about the voice and tone? Did the characters feel like cardboard cutouts? If you can answer this question now, you can avoid running into the same problem. If your plot didn’t work, try some outlining techniques. If the voice was wrong, try to nail it down. As for the character problems…

You say the main character feels flat. Again, the question here is why. They could be boring because they aren’t well developed. How much do you know about this character’s history? How alive do they feel to you? Would you want to be friends with this character, or at least find them interesting if you met them in real life? It may be that you need to sit down and write out some character sheets for your protagonist. Or you could try writing some short stories about them, to flesh them out without the pressure of writing an entire novel.

The main character could be boring in terms of the plot. Are they a passive protagonist, reacting instead of acting? Do they lack a driving motivation? If so, go back and figure out how to make them an actor. What do they want more than anything? Figure out how they can get it. What can’t they bear to lose? Take it away from them.  What’s the worst thing they can imagine? Make it happen to them and see what they do. None of these things have to be part of your story, but they can help you figure out what your story is.

Or the main character could be boring compared to other characters. Do you like other characters better than your protagonist? If so, why? Are they more motivated? Funnier? Charming? Do they drive the plot instead of the protagonist? If the answer to these questions is yes, then take a step back and ask why your protagonist is the main character. What makes them important enough to be the center of your book? Why are they more important than this other character you like more? Bring that reason into the story. Or maybe you need to refocus the book around that other character.

Finally, you say your story overall is boring. This could be the main character’s fault. They’re the focus, after all, and if you don’t like them, then the rest of the story won’t work either. As you improve your main character, your story improves with them. And if you’re writing about the wrong main character altogether, then of course the story feels boring.

However, there could be problems with the story beyond the protagonist. You might mean that your plot meanders. Break your story down by scene and list what happens in each. Is there a clear forward momentum? Does each scene do more than one thing? If not, how can you fix this? Even a slice of life story has an engine  hidden somewhere.

Hopefully those get you thinking, friend. One final note: this could just be a crisis of confidence. If none of these questions help spark your thoughts, ask someone else to take a look at your draft. Showing unfinished works to other people can be scary, but sometimes all it takes is one person who says, “I really like this!” to get you started again.

M.A. 


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NaNoWriMo New Character GeneratorWant to add a little extra…

NaNoWriMo New Character Generator

Want to add a little extra oomph into your story? Or need someone to help get your main character out of a bind? Use your name and birthday to find out what new character you should introduce into your current work in progress!

And don’t forget to update your Camp NaNoWriMo projects—it’s not to late to start!

Follow @nanowrimo and @nanowordsprints on Twitter for more inspiration, and tune in to the Virtual Write-Ins on Youtube.

—Claire Kann hails from the glorious Bay Area where the weather…

Claire Kann hails from the glorious Bay Area where the weather is regrettably not nearly as temperate as it used to be. Let’s Talk About Love is her debut YA contemporary novel, published in 2018 with Swoon Reads/Macmillan. A sucker for instant gratification, she also posts new stories regularly to Wattpad, including the two Watty Award-winning stories: The Scavenger Hunt and #Fatgirl Magic.

Your Camp Care Package is brought to you by Camp NaNoWriMo. Sign up to receive more Camp Care Packages at campnanowrimo.org.

Text added over original image by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash.

prompt 991

Answer the following questions and then write about the creature that emerge from that exercise.

Forget Disney. You are making a mermaid or a siren. What type of mermaid is it? Are they pretty? Are they weird? How big are they? What color/s? Do they speak.

Sirens: what does their song sound like? What do they say? How do they capture you? What do they do once they capture you? Can they communicate with humans?

Let yourself go. Have fun!

Hi! Can you please help me with my story? So I’m writing about an antagonist and she’s a hired killer. One night, someone saw her doing her job. She saw the guy and shot him in his back, almost near his heart. But in this story, I kind of put an advanced technology here. So the guy got in the hospital, went in a coma but soon woke up from it, and here’s the thing. The bullet – when it hit someone, it disintegrates and disappears but it leaves a hole.

Pt. 2 This is the
continuation. So the question is: how can the doctors say that he had a hole,
most probably from a bullet (in their pov), but can’t say it came from it
because they have no evidence? Another one. It’s about the antagonist that is a
hired killer. I can’t think of any way why she became one. Will you please help
me?

Hello, hello! Wow, good questions! I will be honest,
I am not a healthcare professional, but I will give this my best go. I used the
blog @scriptmedic, who is a professional and has written numerous posts on a
wide range of medical mishaps for research, and I highly suggest you check it out! Here we go!

image

Warning! Discussion of weapons, bullets, injuries, and antagonists ahead!

Firstly, advanced tech aside, a bullet wound is a bullet
wound. In the ER, a trained doctor will
be able to tell you what caused the damage. A bullet entering the body creates
a path which a knife, or any other kind of blade cannot create. A knife pierces
with a slash path and bleeds like crazy. When a bullet penetrates, it displaces
the tissue surrounding the path, creating both a permanent wound and a
temporary stretch cavity. This means the tissue expands then retracts back down
to a bullet sized trauma entry and path.The bigger the bullet, the bigger the hole; but  this raises the probability of death, which for our patient, we don’t want.

Now in regards to your disintegrating bullet, first of all
what a brilliant idea, and second I am applying @scriptmedic’s rule of, “You
break it, you bought it”. Meaning, since you are the creator and it isn’t exactly
common knowledge around disintegrating ammo, some elements will either be up to
you to decide or logically figure out. Now, we know that our patient only has
one entry hole since the bullet disintegrates after impact and we know that
there is no physical evidence of the bullet. But there are a few things that
need to be kept in mind. 1) A medical team’s primary concern is that the
patient does not die, 2) an experienced trauma doctor can determine it’s a
bullet wound, and 3) forensics are sometimes able to pick up residue from a
gunshot from the clothing a person was wearing. 

My suggestion is that you do a bit of research on bullets,
especially the frangible bullets (“disintegrating” bullets) that are used by
the military for training and close proximity environments. The difference between your idea and frangible bullets is that frangible bullets are designed to not ricochet after hitting, say a tank, during a training session. They are designed to minimize damage and the danger level while working in either close proximity to other people or during training sessions. At close range, they probably are lethal, but these bullets do not disappear, only fracture upon impact to minimize damage. You may have to be
a little creative and create something that completely disintegrates and does not create the same “clean
cut” that the average bullet would. Bullets can change direction as they hit
bone
, but the amount and type of damage they are able to create is again
limited to a bullet.

Antagonist Time!

image

While past hurt or tragedy does not justify
a character’s future actions, it does offer an explanation – a very good
explanation. As a writing friend put it, “personal motivation is always the
strongest factor, either for revenge or self-reward”, to which I will add even
if a person has nothing in the world they care to keep or protect, they are
still fighting for themselves and what they think they deserve. So, why did she
become a hired killer? My assumption is that at some point she realized A) she
had the skill-level and knowledge, B) she didn’t care or her conscience was
numb to murder, and C) she needed the money that badly. Of course, you could explore the possibility of traumatic
childhood or unfortunate circumstances that forced her need to survive, but the
three points I just named are things you should consider during your creative
process. I don’t know your character, but you could also explore her perspective
on things. For example, instead of a bad past, her thinking could be backwards
and she wholeheartedly believes that she is the hero and is taking out the bad
guys. It is a common viewpoint of a villain, but for characters like D.C.’s
Oliver Queen a.k.a Green Arrow, he is portrayed as the hero even though he is
murdering the bad guys to protect Star City. But even with Oliver, his experiences
and desperate fight for survival on a deserted island facing assassins, gives
him his edge to fight. I suggest you really get into her skin and figure out
how she feels about being a hired killer. Does she feel badly? Maybe she isn’t completely
cold and just had an unfortunate experience or a bad past? Or if she views our
patient as the bad guy, maybe she believes she is the hero? Does she enjoy her
job? Maybe she really is a dark antagonist?

Why your character is the way she is, is up to you. You are
the author, and you get to decide. As to how your patient survives and stumps
the doctors, its advanced technology, something you created, so bend the rules
a little! Sometimes TV and book doctors really don’t know because its plot convenient.
I hope I was able to lend a helping hand and point you down the right rabbit
trail.

As always,

Happy Writing!

-Mia

prompt 987

No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.

                                                           —Abraham Lincoln

Hello! I have a question. So I have a story with 3 lead characters on a journey. One is a bodyguard with air magic, one is sort of the brains of the operation, and the last one is a mute toddler with powers of her own. Her character contributes quite a bit as far as plot goes, but as for her participation in the group I’m kind of at a loss. I was wondering, is there a way to get her a bit more involved with the others? Are there any resources you would recommend looking into?

image

@abigaillustrations

Infants, toddlers, and children are fantastic opportunities for humor, symbolism, and character development for the older characters. Toddlers are rambunctious little scamps who are at the cusp of realizing that they are independent beings. They often oscillate between wanting freedom and wanting to rely on their caregivers. So, unless your toddler is completely self-reliant (which, realistically, they are not), she will always be involved with the other characters. 

Toddler-hood tends to span between the ages of 12 and 36 months. There are a set of milestones [1,2,3] that children are typically expected to reach within this time period, but those goals are not always met. The growth and personality of a toddler will change multiple times between the ages of 12 and 36 months, and so will her cognitive, physical, social, and motor skills. Depending on the age range, your older characters could be dealing with a completely helpless child, or one who is able to run around and climb all of the dangerous objects. The toddler will require a lot of care and supervision regardless of her age, but the types of supervision will be different throughout her growth and development. 

Having a mute toddler is an entirely different struggle. Toldder-hood is when children start being able to speak and communicate. Not being able to speak will lead to a lot of frustration on the toddler’s part. The parents of children who cannot speak for one reason or another often choose to teach their children sign language. This has been said to reduce frustration [1,2], although are very few formally reported sources. If your toddler is unable to communicate with her caretakers, this will be the cause of many tantrums. Since your toddlers also possesses powers, those tantrums could turn deadly in a moment’s time. 

At the bare minimum, the older characters will need to help feed her, dress her, make sure she does not seriously injure herself, and provide social interaction. The level of interaction the older characters have with the toddler is completely up to you. The best way for the characters to interact with the toddler is by acting as her caretakers and guiding her through this frustrating period of her life. 

xx Sarah