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Hello everyone. I've decided to start a blog, partly because it sounds amusing, and partly because I want to remind myself of everything I should be doing while writing. This blog will dispense whatever sage advice I happen to have to offer, along with the side tangents and other thoughts that come to mind while writing these things. I will have space at the end of each blog for a more condensed version of the advice, for the sake of clarity and really making sure I get all this stuff. I'm still working on making it look pretty, and I probably won't have it super fancy until sometime in January. Let's face it, I'm never going to get around to it.
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Character Development

Posted December 17th, 2015 at 10:12 AM by Bardothren
Updated December 31st, 2015 at 8:45 AM by Bardothren

First blog entry, hooray. I decided to start with one of my weaknesses: character development. It's been on my mind lately, so I might as well write about it.

Character Development

I saw a video recently outlining how to make the prequels good. And upon viewing it, I realized the biggest problem isn't NAME EXCISED FOR SANITY'S SAKE. It's the characterization. None of the characters mentally grow throughout the series. Obi Wan's... Obi Wan, and Anakin goes from a bratty kid to a bratty child-murderer.

In my mind, characterization breaks down into three parts: the baseline, the change, and the end result. Equal attention has to be given to these three parts.

The baseline is the most critical and the most overlooked in the prequels. There needs to be a firm sense of the kind of relationship/lifestyle a person has before all the changes that happen. A good example would be the slice of Luke's life on the moisture farm. Establish your characters' personalities and portray the dynamics between your characters. Show a loving couple going ice skating together and holding hands, or a mother reading to her child, or Obi Wan teaching Luke how to hold a lightsaber.

Next comes the change. This can come in diverse forms depending on the direction you wish to go. I'll borrow Star Wars again as an example. The Vader/Luke dynamic evolves from "that guy who killed Obi Wan and is going to hurt my friends" to "my father" through a tense, well-put together lightsaber battle. Before the battle, there's stakes involved: vengeance for Obi Wan and protecting his friends. With the parental connection introduced, the relationship evolves into Luke trying to turn him back to the light side.

Let's compare it to the prequels. Where do we see character growth through a villain? There was a great opportunity for Obi Wan to grow through Darth Maul - but we know how that turned out. One could also consider Count Dooku a part of growth, and in a sense, that happens. It's a pivotal turning point for Anakin, when Dooku goes from the Sith Apprentice that bested him and chopped off his hand to the mistake he shouldn't have made, turning him to the dark side. I'll give the prequels credit for that much. However, for a truly great hero/villain dynamic, I would turn to the likes of

Of course, this is but one of many ways to achieve character growth. Failure can make characters grow, or loss, injury, rejection, etc. Why do we make characters fall? So we can get them back up stronger than ever. Assess how such a loss would impact your character and what changes they would make to deal with the situation. Good examples include Shawshank Redemption, Full Metal Alchemist, The Count of Monte Christo, and Gurren Lagann, just to name a few options that come to mind. Loss, then redemption through change. A character's failures and losses are often more moving than the successes and can create a powerful moment.

Lastly is the landing: what happens next. I consider this the least important mainly because if you have the previous two done correctly, this should happen organically. How is the character shaped by their experiences? How have the relationships in their life changed? Do they regret the choices they made and the loss of what was before?

As a writer, I'm most susceptible to some of the pitfalls of character development. While I'm good at getting characters into trouble, I often make it so they don't have to struggle to solve the problem. They seldom fail at what they set out to do. I also tend to jump right into the plot without taking time to map out the original character. The main reason I'm doing this blog is to give myself my own advice. I am working on my third (or fifth, however you keep score) fanfic, and I really want to keep these points in mind as I work on it. So, as I promised, here's a more condensed version of my advice.

Summary

So, to summarize, I recommend considering this structure when drafting a story. It isn't perfect, but I've found it helpful in reanalyzing how I'm going to approach my next story.

Baseline: have a chapter's worth of material highlighting the relationship between your main characters. Think of it as introducing the characters to the audience. Although this section should be tied to the plot in some manner, don't emphasize the plot just yet. Just let the reader get their feet wet.

Change: set goals and stakes for the character. Weigh how far they're willing to go to achieve those goals, and how their decisions change their relationships. Have them reassess their goals at points of doubt or loss. Make them (readers and characters alike) wonder what will come next. Have them learn from their mistakes. Give them setbacks and let them triumph or fall to them based on their own merits. Remember: coincidences that get your character into trouble is good storytelling, but coincidences that get them out of trouble is cheating.

Landing: Take a step back and compare the beginning to the end - usually through a symbolic element or a dialogue with some character. If your character was once a star athlete, have them reflect over a soccer ball. If they once had a child, maybe they should hold some beloved toy to their chest. This connection from beginning to end ties the story together and gives the reader context for your character's transformation.

For any of you reading this, I hope that you found it both instructive and mildly entertaining as I have. I believe I'll be updating this once a week, but I should know better than to try to hold myself to a schedule.

Til next time.

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Comments

  1. Old Comment
    MiracleGhost47's Avatar
    Do you believe that foil characters are important? Also, what is good about using coincidences to get the heroes into trouble that "cheating" doesn't have?
    Posted January 10th, 2016 at 7:57 PM by MiracleGhost47 MiracleGhost47 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Bardothren's Avatar
    The difference between getting into and getting out of trouble using coincidences lies in believability. Things go wrong all the time and is more engaging from a storytelling standpoint, whereas things happening to work out for the character can happen, but it's not often that realistic and not that engaging.

    As for foil characters, they are important; I simply didn't include them in this one. Perhaps another time, but it's not an area I have too much experience with.
    Posted January 10th, 2016 at 8:10 PM by Bardothren Bardothren is offline