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Character Development Adds Life to Writing

by Brenda Mahler about a year ago in how to
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When writing a narrative, it is necessary to have an intimate relationship with the character

Photo by Gilbert Beltran on Unsplash

My favorite books introduce characters I connect with on a personal level. When the book ends, I am left with a lonely feeling because a friend has departed. Leaving behind Dagny Taggart, Scout Finch, and Tom Sawyer left a hole that has sense prompted me to reread each text to hear their voices, watch their adventures and share their emotions.

Allow the reader to connect to the character

Writers know everything about their characters: personality, life history, preferences, physical attributes. It only makes sense because the writer created the character and provided them an identity. When the character appears on the page everything they say, the way they make statements, how they move, what they do, each word in reference to the character develops their persona in a reader’s mind. The writer holds the power to make them loved, hated, live, die or all of these as they develop and change throughout the book.

Create a dynamic protagonist

Throughout the plot, energetic, actively involved characters evolve through the events. That is not to imply they must be upbeat and positive when the opposite is possible. The events in the story may move forward simply because of their animosity, or mischievous acts. For a relationship to develop with the reader, the character must be believable in the setting of the text. The behaviors must be motivated by obvious reasons (even if those reasons are not shared with the reader) that are logical and believable.

Dynamic characters are also referred to as round because they evolve, grow, and change as they interact with others and their environment — just as humans do in life. The key to creating a dynamic, round character requires a profound understanding of what motivates the individual who began as an idea in the writer’s mind and evolved into a living, breathing person. Everything they do, say, think and feel must be in-sync with their personalities — just as we know what our best friend thinks and how she feels, the readers wants to be privy to all the detail.

To effectively share information with the reader it should be divulged a little at a time, from the moment the person enters the narrative, through their behaviors and responses to others’ actions and comments. A list describing a character restricts them to the page as flat and unrealistic, but an illustration breaths life into them. Compare these two alternative strategies to introduce a character.

Sample of a character presented through a list

Cynthia walked into the room dressed in a black sequined gown. She wore heals that added 2 inches to her 5-foot 6-inch frame. When she met Adam, she reached out and shook his hand. He shook her hand and noticed her nails were decorated with bright red, a thin black line and a gem in the corner of each. He was intrigued by her high cheek bones and long black hair that covered her shoulders.

Sample developing a character through illustration

Before Cynthia strolled into the ballroom, she paused to glimpse her reflection in the hall mirror. As she continued a fleeting image of herself before the accident flashed in her mind. Unless someone observed closely, her movements seemed to flow uninterrupted causing her dress to drift, slightly brushing the floor. The gown’s sequins glistened like a thousand stars against the black sky, attracting the attention of each male in the room who chanced to notice her entrance. Adam’s glance turned to a stare as his eyes moved from her 2-inch stilettos up the sleek fabric that caressed her legs, to her shallow bodice, stopping on her blue eyes that complimented the black locks that curled slightly at her shoulder. When she extended her hand, the gems strategically placed on the tip of each nail winked at him an invitation. A spark transmitted from him to her petite frame, and he knew she felt the shock as her lips curved to accentuate her high cheek bones.

Bring a character alive a little at a time on the page but before ever placing pen to paper, develop the character completely in your imagination.

Here’s a strategy; interview your character

Learn everything about them: past, present, future, what they value, dreams for their future. Answer each of the following questions to get started. You fill in the easy, obvious facts on your own: age, eye color, height, weight, etc.

Graphic created by author, Brenda Mahler

When an author possesses unlimited knowledge of the protagonist, they are omniscient, all knowing; thus, they have the ability to divulge the tightest held secrets and insights to prompt the reader to turn the page excited for what is to come. When two people meet for the first time, information is revealed a little at a time. This is the manner in which the reader and character should become acquainted.

As the author, the creator, the one giving birth to a person on the page, it is the writer’s responsibility to mold, develop, and help them grow.

How well do you know your character?

Brenda Mahler writes a blog. Check it out — I AM My Best!

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About the author

Brenda Mahler

Stories about life that inspire emotions - mostly humor.

Lessons about writing based on my textbook, Strategies for Teaching Writing.

Poetry and essays about the of art of being human.

I write therefore, I am.

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