How To Develop Characters


Alexa Donne


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hello everyone Alexa done here and today I am going to be talking about the fundamentals of developing characters I love character-driven stories they're my favorite to write and to read characters are the beating heart of any story and it bugs me when they're underdeveloped or the development doesn't make sense readers will follow a character they care about anywhere you can get away with a lot if you have vibrant characters that your readers care about there are a lot of places to start when it comes to developing characters but I always like to think about both my main plot conceits as well as the world that I am setting the story in your main plot conceit and the world will tell you where your character needs to end up and thus where they need to start or approximately where they need to start you need a character who does X Y Z so that the story works and makes sense every person in a world is going to perceive their world and we act to their world differently depending on a variety of factors where they come from how they were raised their education level their class and you need to consider these things when you're developing your characters I like to think about my characters familial lineage which basically means I also come up with their parents and also sometimes their grandparents regardless of whether those characters appear on the page think about yourself so much of who you are comes down to your parents works when they had you their perspective on the world how they raised you the values that they instilled characters are exactly the same they don't come out of nowhere unless you've written an Android which is also cool but even Hendrix has parents because Androids has creators which introduces all sorts of interesting in ideas and conflict sci-fi girl you can go back as far in the family tree as you want thinking about things like old family rivalries immigration anything that would inform the background of the character I like to think of whether a person's parents were permissive or strict whether they had a positive and friendly relationship with their parents or combative what were their parents goals both for themselves would it they envisioned for their lives as well as for their children from this you get some interesting dynamics for example if you decide that someone's parents you know had goals for themselves that they didn't achieve and now they are kind of living through their child that creates all sorts of dynamics and personality and conflicts that play into your character's personality and how they approach the world every character like every person has a goal something that they want more than anything you need to think about that goal and then all the obstacles that you're going to throw in that characters way to create conflict and stakes good characters are all about specificity and these things that I've mentioned so far all play into that where they're from how they see the world their goals think about your favorite characters in fiction what makes them specific why do you like them often it is the specific details whether it's their sense of humor and how they use humor in the world a tick that they have a weird habit that they adore coffee whatever that thing is its specificity think about your characters greatest faults as well as their greatest strengths characters who are only strong and good at everything and have positive qualities are boring everyone has faults and often someone's greatest weakness is also or can be their biggest strengths we have that in real life with ourselves think about how ambition can turn on a dime it can drive someone forward and get them everything that they want but it can also lead to their downfall every character trait has a potential turn so think about who you want your character to be and then think about their fatal flaw the things that are going to get in the way of what they want this will also help you develop conflicts with other characters in the story you're never creating only one character you're creating a cast of characters and your characters all need to interact if you have a sense of who each of the characters are what they want what's in their way their strengths their weaknesses you can create foils characters who specifically exist to frustrate annoy or get in the way of other characters creating conflict you should think about quirks hobbies talents likes and dislike not all of your characters will have a full complement of these things but your main character and your love interest definitely will the characters to get the most screen time and especially anyone who's a POV character you're going to need to do this work so that you know as much about them as possible you're developing a biography a personality for them don't go overboard with any of these things if someone has too many quirks they beggar beliefs if somebody has too many hobbies well they're going to be too busy to do whatever thing you need them to do within your plot if somebody has a ridiculous number of talents well then they verge on Mary Sue Gary stew territory and again they're not dynamic someone who is really great at a lot of things and not bad if anything is boring and likes and dislikes you're not going to have a list in your story but they're going to come up because again this is going to lead to conflicts if your character has very specific likes and very specific dislikes you can engineer those things coming up in the form of other characters and things that happen to them and you're always wanting to give your character something to react to characters and conflict go hand in hand and good conflict with meaty stakes drives good plot some examples of quirks a person incessantly taps their foot or they're a nail-biter or the smell of eggs makes them feel sick it can be anything this isn't necessarily a great quirk but think about Bella in Twilight where she's constantly biting her lip that's definitely a quirk and it's memorable it's a bit you know easy to derive hobbies are tough because a lot of hobbies are passive hobbies that aren't actually that interesting in a book for example a character who really loves to read well I legit had that be a hobby for Stella and brightly burning in the wrong plot or setting it can be an incredibly passive hobby and really boring to talk about for hobbies you want to think about what your character enjoys doing in their spare time and what that says about the world that they live in hobbies can be easier to come up with in some settings for example in way contemporary you know the characters live in this world so they can have any of the hobbies that any of us can have in this world but if you set your world in the future in sci-fi what you have to think what kind of hobbies do people have what's the technology that is available and how does that impact the things that people do in their spare time historical hobbies have changed a lot with the advent of technology and travel I mean women used to sit around in circles and embroider and that was considered a hobby and I honestly sometimes can't imagine how people in like Jane Austen's time like spent all of their time on fantasy they're obviously going to be all sorts of hobbies in the real world that will not exist in a fantasy world and there should be hobbies that exist in a fantasy world if it's special enough if it's fresh enough that say a lot about your world and how it works like some dislikes are pretty self-explanatory and I find it often then tie into quirks I mentioned that edigg won and that's actually based on me I do get a little bit sick at the smell of eggs and thus I dislike eggs I don't know if that would be interesting or relevant in a book plot but that's a good example of how a dislike ties into a quirk I do want to talk a bit about talents talents can really shape a plot often a character's core talent may be the very thing that drives your story forward there has to be a reason that this thing that is happening in your story to your character happens to your character and that's usually going to be talents interests likes dislikes or relationships and bringing it back to those parents you are going to want to think about character relationships to parents siblings friends love interests relationships are so frequently a driver of motivation for a character you see the trope of the character who has to save a beloved sibling and that's why they go on their quest there's the trope of somebody losing a beloved parent and that rage driving them on to their quest or simply romance having a love interest and wanting to have a relationship with someone or not wanting to have a relationship with someone and my favorite Elizabeth irsie trope will drive forward the plot and conflict of any story with it a lot of romance when you're crafting characters think about them as a whole as a whole calf when you're developing a cast you should always think about those relationships and how every one that you've created relates to each other what function are they serving and is it dynamic be careful of character soup this is when you have way too large a cast like a like george RR martin territory size casts which only some books authors and genres can get away with but for the most part if you give your readers too many names and characters to keep track of they'll get confused or bored or nothing will stick so always look at your characters and what function they're serving and think can I take two or three characters and combine them into one - I'll perform the same functions you'll often find in revision that you have to do this as you're drafting come up with whatever characters you need to perform the functions you need them to do as you're dropping I do that with pantsing all the time oh I need someone to come and do this thing so I create a character but later I might condense or combine or cut those characters if what they're doing doesn't serve the complete story I love to think about character names names really instil a large part of our identity there a marker of our ethnic or cultural background family history if someone's using family names certain names have connotations or specific meanings and they can pact how others treat you for better or for worse so think about what your character's name is why their parents might have picked it what it says about them how others might treat them because of their name etc etc picking a name is easier said than done and everyone has a different style for doing it and in fact coming up with names for fantasy is a whole other ballpark it's not easy but one trick I do have that I will share is I like to pick a culture that I'm going to be drawing from and then I look up names that were popular around the time my character would have been born or in the case of sci-fi you know just popular names from that culture and I think about the ones that have the right feel and rhythm that I like that I think would fit what their parents would have named them and sometimes it's just about something having the right ring on the page or someone having a name that hasn't been used eight million other books I also do think about love interesting and main character names and how they kind of you know do they sound cute together you can think of all sorts of things when it comes to names but names can also help spark characters maybe you start with a name and you build a character around it what kind of person would have that name ultimately I see characters kind of like icebergs you see this analogy for plot all the time and it works well for plot the characters you should see kind of the tip of the iceberg in the book but the details actually make it onto the page but then 90% of it should be under the surface they should be things about the characters that you know that inform the way that you write them but never necessarily make it on the page this is how characters feel so vibrant and real to readers there's a voice and a sense of depth if you as the author feel like your characters are real people and you write them with that vibrancy and depth your readers are going to pick that up and feel that that is developing characters in a nutshell and some of the things that I do and I think about but it's just the tip of the iceberg there is so much to talk about when it comes to characters and more discussions to have I'm curious how you guys develop characters because everyone has a different style let me know down in the comments or if you have questions about specific things I brought up but didn't go into detail drop that in the comments as well I try not to make these videos too long and you know as I say all the time I'll make another video on that I will probably make more videos on some of the things that I talked about but that is developing layered dynamic and fleshed out characters in a nutshell