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Character development ideas

edited June 2015 in The Toolbox
Hi. I've always thought up my characters' backgrounds in a general way in my head. Now I'm looking to transcend my writing. So I decided to write out a whole character development question sheet for each character (like 'describe their parents', 'describe their worst fear' and other questions that really map out what shaped and what currently shapes them). I've never done that much work into characters before, and find it a bit tedious and boring, but I know it's necessary. 

Do you have any ideas or tips that help make the process less tedious, or unique ways that you do character developments? 

Comments

  • I'm probably alone in this, but I generally avoid making up these character sheets before I start writing. If I do, I write two paragraphs, max, unless I have to do this for a pitch. Even then I'll usually do the character sheets after I've written some.

    Two reasons: 

    1, the temptation is to lavish all my effort on character sheets and story bibles when I could be spending that time writing, and 

    2, I discover a lot about my characters through the process of writing them. If I have them all worked out beforehand they become boring to me, and that I think equates to boring for readers. Being boring is the only sin you can't get away with in fiction.
  • I don't think I'd say that approach to character development is "necessary".  Depending on the kind of story and the nature of the characters, it can be helpful, by pushing you to develop them into more complex characters than simply doing whatever the plot requires of them to move along.

    The recurring characters in my JAQrabbit Tales episodes are all based directly on real people I've known, so I probably could answer those kinds of questions about them ... but I don't. :)
  • I don't really do biographical character sheets. I DO character sheets, but they're descriptive of what the character looks like.

    I do have some biography in mind, to greater and lesser degrees. I know that No was a JAG lawyer who got DADT'd not long before it was repealed, and why he was in the QZ. But I've never found that more than a sentence's worth of backstory has ever been useful.

    That said, that doesn't mean people shouldn't. People write great shit all kinds of ways. I DO tend to know a lot about my characters, but it all just sort of happens.
  • I'd prefer to let it happen organically. That said, I don't much in the way of pre-writing, generally. But characters are defined by the decisions they make in-story, and there's not much value in knowing what those decisions will be ahead of time.
  • I would only do a lot of character development before writing a story if I didn't already have a strong story idea, or if the story was extremely complex. Otherwise, I find myself getting distracted from the writing the story by over planning.
  • My main concern with "character development" is more along the lines of "cast development". Since I feature a combination of occasionally-recurring characters and one-shot characters, I want to be careful that I don't accidentally re-use a name, and risk a reader thinking it's the same character ... and meanwhile if I do reuse a name, that's confirmation that it really is the same character (even if drawn by a different artist). Not a huge deal, but good for the continuity freaks in the audience.  I also make a conscious effort to show characters with a realistic range of diversity.  So I keep a spreadsheet that lists all of the named/speaking characters in each episode, their ages, their genders, and their ethnic "bucket". It's a reminder to avoid defaulting to white-20s-to-30s-male-named-John.
  • I've never done this on a professional basis, although I know there are people who make a go of it. Mind you, if I were working up a character encyclopedia for fun and (hopefully) profit, I'd quickly and happily make a liar of myself.
  • Thanks so much for the helpful feedback. I guess in a way I am over-planning it if I'm finding it to be tedious and boring. I will do a paragraph max for each and devote more time to letting them all unfold in the story. Probably a good idea because there's several characters who kind of make up a rusty old spaceship crew, so it would take a lot of my time away from writing the actual thing. Thanks everyone, you helped me figure out what I need to do!
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