Tips for: Character Development

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Allow me to preface by saying: just about everything in this industry is opinion. Writing is an art just like any other, and as such, there are no hard-and-fast rules to follow. However, the following are some habits I notice authors falling into that, if adjusted, could really expand the reader’s understanding of a character and their actions.

  • “It was all [Character A] could do not to…”
    • This is an easy habit to get into, and honestly, one of my biggest pet peeves as a reader. What was all they could do? Why are they holding themselves back? How does this character reign themselves in, physically or emotionally? Moments like these, where your character is in such an emotionally tense situation, are your opportunity to teach your reader something about them! Here are some options:
      • Are they self-destructive and dig their nails into their flesh to hold themselves back? (If so, describe where—if they’re feeling self-conscious and angry, maybe they cross their arms over their chest and dig their nails into their upper arms. If they’re trying to hide their anger/frustration, maybe they dig their nails into their hands or their thighs so it’s not as obvious to an outside viewer.)
      • Are they holding themselves back from saying something, so they gnash their teeth or bite their tongue?
      • Are they seeing red because the person they’re interacting with upset them, or are they mad at the situation? Are they the type of person to take it out on whoever they’re talking to (or if they’re alone, the objects in the room) or do they take it out on themselves?
      • Are they blinking quickly or looking up to hold back tears?
    • Not only are these moments to show your reader who your character is, but they’re also moments for you to reflect on them and get to know them better. Really think about what your character is grappling with in this situation, and show us.
  • Large chunks of dialogue with no introspection
    • Sometimes we need a large sequence of pure dialogue to show that a scene is fast-paced, and that’s great! But go through the instances where most of your text is dialogue and really evaluate if it needs to be quick (or quick-witted). If not, then hop on in and check what’s going on with each character emotionally.
    • How would Character A respond physically to what Character B is saying/doing? What about vice versa? If there’s a bystander present, are they reacting to the conversation they’re witnessing? Which character is noticing that? Would one character’s words spark an internal realization in the other? Let your reader hear about it!
  • Character reactions, but rarely to other character’s reactions
    • You’ve got your dialogue and your actions, and your characters are reacting to all of it! That’s amazing! But are you still getting notes that we don’t know your characters well enough? Look for moments where Character B is reacting in front of Character A, and have Character A respond to that reaction.
    • Say your story is from the POV of Character A. If your characters are showing physical reactions, are you, the author, telling us, or is A noticing it? If A is the one noticing, then A would have a reaction! Whether it’s flinching/cringing from guilt at their words, recoiling in disgust (physically or internally), quickly smirking but trying to hide it, etc. People notice and then react to other people’s reactions, and that can tell us just as much about a character as their words and direct thoughts can!
  • Only group interactions
    • Look through your scenes: Do your main characters only interact with each other in groups of three or more? This can make it difficult for each individual character’s personality to shine through. It also limits the reader’s understanding of each character’s relationship with each other character.
    • Still a little confused? Think about yourself. Do you act the same with your best friend and the person you have a crush on as you do when it’s just you and your friend or you and your crush? Most people don’t! Show your reader what your characters value within their personalities and who they feel most comfortable with by showing them how your characters act differently with different people.
  • Only one-on-one interactions
    • The opposite problem from the previous bullet. The same point still stands, but inverse it and add more scenes with groups of three or more characters. This will also be good practice for you to keep everything straight with so many characters at once.

If you’re still struggling and you can afford it, get yourself an editor! They can look at your book with fresh eyes and give you specific, personalized advice on how to better develop your characters so that your readers will love (or love to hate) them as much as you do. (My services are currently open, if you’re looking.)

At the end of the day and above all else, remember that you started this process because you love doing it. Don’t let the struggles make you forget that.

Happy writing. You got this.

❤ Elanna

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