You may be surprised to know that you were born with a superpower: character development. I can see you rolling your eyes already — stop it! Creating characters is something so easy, so natural, that you may have forgotten your knack for it. So, let me clue you in to how to reawaken that sleeping power and put it to work.
Characters have many roles in fiction. Some draw the story around them like a cloak; they’re the center point of narrative and dialogue. Others provide a counterpoint to a main character, allowing you to contrast traits and aspects through comparison. Still others are available to move the plot along from scene to scene or act as a metaphor for some timeless lesson, as Darth Vader represents the isolation and eternal sorrow that comes from doing great evil. However you use them, characters are a pivotal device in your writing. It’s important to get them right.
That’s a lot of pressure, and part of why character development makes some writers cringe. They get tangled up in details, psychology, physiology, timelines and background details and tire themselves out before they’ve begun. I know, because I once felt that way about creating new and powerful characters for my stories. Until I discovered the one thing I’d long forgotten.
When I shifted my perspective using my superpower, I realized just how easy it is to create compelling characters. Are you ready to learn the secret of easy character development? Are you sure? Here it is:
You are a character. Use yourself.
Start by creating characters modeled on your own personality. Then, use your emotions, your strengths, weaknesses, fears, conflicts, secrets, quirks, and idiosyncrasies to bring one of your characters into life. You have intimate knowledge of your backstory, the niggling doubts your character harbors, the secret fascinations, and his or her Achilles heel. You know what makes this one tick because you are this one.
Once you get the hang of cloning yourself, or parts of yourself, you can turn up your character development superpower another notch by snatching characteristics of best friends, siblings, parents, and anyone else you know well. Remember that phrase, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel?” I’m pretty sure this is why someone penned that warning. A word of caution: Borrowing traits and quirks is okay; writing a person so clearly into your story that they or their loved ones can recognize them is not. You can get in trouble. Big trouble. And unless you want to end up writing prison characters exceptionally well, you should stay away from obvious clones from the real world.
After you’ve fleshed out a few characters in this way, you’ll be able to pull physical attributes from one person you know, the personality of another, the backstory of a third and so on. This combining will help keep the source of your characterizations under wraps, too. Soon, you’ll realize there’s an entire world filled with mix-and-match characters just waiting to be brought to life. Character development won’t be a chore — it’ll be an adventure. Like Dr. Frankenstein, you’ll have the ability to create from scratch a character of your own design. As he says:
“I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”
So unleash your superpower onto the pages of your next story and create a character so lifelike they walk right off the page into your readers’ minds. You can do this!
See you on the next page!