Three Ways To Develop Characters
Advice from a professional writer
As a ghostwriter, I get asked a lot by other writers for advice on different ways to develop characters. Human beings are dynamic creatures by nature. We get restless when things are the same for too long. Why then do most writers shy away from infusing their creations with an element of change?
When I read a manuscript or work on developing a story, I am frequently shocked at how writers refuse to shake their characters up. They stubbornly adhere to that first description. A character that looks the same at the end of the story as they did in the beginning probably did not endure much of transformation. They act the same and do the same things regardless of how much chaos the writer has crafted around them.
Here are three very simple ways to shake up your characters out of stasis and give them life.
Perhaps the simplest of ways to develop characters that transform through the story is a change is in their appearance. Take a look at Walter White. Throughout the course of Breaking Bad, the writers alter his look in subtle ways and each one signals a massive shift in his character.
A rumpled fedora.
The shaved head goes from the result of chemotherapy to gangland persona.
After six seasons, White is physically different than the man who first got that awful diagnosis. Each subtle change effectively builds anticipation in the viewer, leaving them wondering what might come next.
All too often, writers put their character in an imaginary costume and leave them in one place. In some ways I can see how this tendency makes sense. A character takes time and energy to design. A dynamic and interesting character isn’t the promise of stasis though. They are the promise of change.
Signal that change to your reader. Show what’s happening on the inside with a change on the outside. Foreshadow. Does your character cut their hair an episode or chapter before their big announcement?
Little things like this keep readers reading and viewers viewing.
Routine is nice. We all have them. Get up at a certain hour. Eat lunch at a certain place. Most people I know break their routines in a routine way too. When they go out for a beer they hit the same bar.
Stories are not about the status quo. They are about people that challenge the assumption of same. “American Beauty” tells a story of little more than this, a man whose day to day strangled him.
Not every story about routine change features a Lester Burnham character. Your character can choose to walk instead of drive to work. They can steal a bike. A simple flat tire can put your character on the bus to work and the melting pot of a city bus can offer up new obstacles and opportunities.
Challenge their routine or your begging for their dismissal.
The last of the three ways to develop characters is a little more subtle but can be an equally effective of demonstrating character change. Say your downtrodden hero goes out to coffee every morning and the barista always seems to screw up the order, and every morning your character sucks it up, takes the wrong cup and walks away.
Maybe your story isn’t about the coffee, but showing your character standing up for themselves signals a bigger change to come. I like to use the little interactions in a story as a gateway. Maybe standing their ground and asking for the right cup of coffee sets in motion the main action that is asking out a cute boy.
These are three ways to develop characters that will keep your writing fresh and bring your characters to life. If you’ve got a good story, but just need little help to push it over the hump, let me help. As a professional ghostwriter, I solve these issues all the time and I know I can do the same for you.