Deep Character Development: Be Your Own Biggest Fan

by RoAnna Sylver 2 years ago in advice

People want to know how to write interesting, real-seeming characters. The answer is simple - and I bet you already do it.

Deep Character Development: Be Your Own Biggest Fan

I get a lot of questions about writing: the process, fave/least fave parts, and the 'where do you get your ideas' question no writer I've met really knows how to answer. Most of all, people want to know how to write interesting, real-seeming characters. The answer is simple - and I bet you already do it.

Looks like homework. I promise, I'm not assigning homework.

A while back, I got this question on my blog:

Anonymous asked: If it's okay to ask, what stuff do you usually do to develop your characters? They're all so nicely fleshed out and they fit so well together, I love them!

First answer was pretty stock - writing exercises, character reference worksheets, that stuff. But really... I don't do that. My process is way less logical, more instinctual, emotional, and helpful for overcoming fear and mental blocks. (And more fun.)

How do I write believable, multidimensional characters?

...I kind of obsess over them.

I think up scenes or what-ifs, or situations from my own life and ask 'what would they do here?' When I hear a song, it turns into a music video starring my favorite characters. I daydream about them and their adventures, and generally have fun.

That's when it hit me.

I'm A Fan Of My Own Stories. I Love Them To Life.

It feels just like loving/trying to figure out my favorite characters - except these are mine, not Marvel's, for example. And it leads to detailed, realistic, interwoven stories.

And I bet you dollars to donuts you already do this.

Take your favorite show/book/movie/game. You want to know everything about that world, right? What makes your favorite character themself.

Oh, unicorn, where is your corn? Shouldn't it be 'uni-horn?'

You want to know them inside and out, what they care about, until you could have a conversation, easily as talking with an old friend. (In a way, they are.)

It happens automatically. We don't even think about it. But when you consciously choose this, and pay attention? Wow.

Get Into Their Heads. (Spoiler Alert: Fans Are Already There.)

Does it sound almost like I'm suggesting turning into a fic-writing fangirl? I am! In order to write a character well, even in #fanfiction, you have to put thought/time/effort/energy into figuring out what makes them tick. It's necessary for good writing and deep understanding. The only difference here is that you're writing the source material, no one else.

I mentioned #Marvel above, and that #fandom is a great example.

He's distinctly more Dorito-shaped for one thing. How does that make him feel?

Ask a fanfiction writer about Steve Rogers. Compare his mental/emotional functions, everyday physicality and interpersonal/social interactions, Before Serum and After Serum.

Does he walk differently? Why? Do different things seem more important now? How would your life change after a super-serum dose - not just being a superhero, how would your thoughts, reactions, and priorities shift?

What the hell is post-traumatic stress disorder and phantom limb pain?

Extra credit: Bucky Barnes, before and after the Winter Soldier ordeal. The aftermath of trauma, PTSD, and disability implications. Amnesia, shame, frustration, loss of sense of self, fighting to regain it.

Having a freaking metal cyborg arm. That changes a guy.

You Know What Else Helps More Than You'd Think? Shipping.

You want to see some characters kiss, and feel your heart pound like you're gonna explode until they do? Do that with yours.

What are they actually thinking? 'This is so hot,' or 'dang I want an umbrella?'

Doesn't even have to be romantic. Every relationship has specific dynamics, interactions, and development from strangers to something else. How do they talk when they first meet? And five years later?

Just make sure you're having fun, and whatever you come up with gets you fired up and wanting to write.

And if you can't access that thrill of excitement and adoration, change your story up until you do. You're in control here, you make your characters so awesome you can't stand it, you have the power to create a story that desperately needs to be told, like it's the only one left in the world.

That drive only comes from one place.

Deep Analysis Comes From Love

This level of critical-thought and consideration belongs in a high-level psych class. Expertise fueled by the desire to understand a chosen subject, like favorite characters. It's the best kind of assignment - you want to learn.

This analysis is beautiful. Fans are academics. We're just studying cultures that aren't often taught in universities - but maybe should be.

These guys got me through college, in more than one way.

And yeah, I might have written an academic paper like this of my own. Or several. On Disney's #Gargoyles. I got A's. The method works.

So Have Fun.

Live in the feelings. Pay active attention to where your mind goes. Imagine music videos in your head. Ponder your characters' interactions, kisses, fights, hurts and comforts. Daydream.

Gosh, I love grapes. I just love grapes so much. (Source: WikiHow)

Write fanfiction of your own creations - but when you're the author, it stops being fic! Still, somehow, thinking of it like this helps me. Even if it's tricking yourself into somersaulting past a mental block. As they say, psychology is half the game.

Like The Velveteen Rabbit, You Love Them Into Being Real

You love them to life. Give them your heart, and they'll give you theirs.

I know this is hard, especially if you struggle to believe your creations are worth anything. But you gotta try. Give the same time, energy, and love into your stories that you give others'. Then they'll come to life, show you who they are, and it'll feel real.

If nothing else, until you can rise to that challenge without fear: loving your characters, loving yourself? Like an old fictional buddy said...

You got a friend in me.

Or at least one big fan.

RoAnna Sylver
RoAnna Sylver
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RoAnna Sylver

Writes weird books about marginalized people surviving/rocking out (CHAMELEON MOON, STAKE SAUCE), amazing puns, and geeky articles. Lives with chronic pain/genetic weirdness. An actual mutant. Open Your Eyes, Look Up To The Skies And See!

See all posts by RoAnna Sylver