A while back, I attended a writer’s conference session about character development. The speaker suggested using astrological signs as a means to create believable, consistent characters. My knowledge of astrology is scant, but I tried to apply it to the characters in my first novel, Winter is Past. The results weren’t what I’d hoped for.
When I worked in the area of nursing education, human resources and spirituality, I had the opportunity to delve into Myers-Briggs…a personality evaluation tool that assesses behavior based on four areas of response: Introversion versus extraversion, Intuitive versus sensate, Thinking versus Feeling and Perceptive versus Judgmental. The latter may not be so self-explanatory but I use the example of my parents: my dad would be ready to go somewhere 20 minutes ahead of time, while my mother would change her mind a few more times about what she wanted to wear. Think: structured versus easy-going.
I returned to my draft manuscript, and applied the Myers-Briggs, using this tool to help me re-create the major characters with the result of more consistent, believable players. For my second novel The Sin of His Father, I wrote out character profiles before I even began to write, again using the Myers-Briggs. It has made it so much easier.
There is an old book called Please Understand Me that explains all the possible profile combinations and how they play out in real life. If you can find it, it’s been a godsend.
I’m addicted to The Learning Company‘s Great Courses, university level programs presented by the highest quality professors. One of the courses, The Art of Reading is taught by Professor Timothy Spurgin of Lawrence University. The lectures are well-organized, clearly presented and as applicable to writers as to readers.
An important point from the lecture on characters addresses developing round characters. The concept of a round character, as opposed to a flat one, was presented by E. M. Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel. Simply put, a round character is one who will capture the reader’s interest because of his unpredictability, his complexity and the changes he undergoes during the course of the story. And this is key: “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.” (Forster)
While a protagonist needs to draw the sympathy of the reader, he should have some character flaws. Inversely, your antagonist should have something that makes him, if not attractive, at least capable of being understood. Just like us–no one is all good or all bad.
As you write, reflect upon your own reaction to the key characters in your manuscript. Are you able to identify with them to some degree? Are there things that, if you were that person, you might be ashamed of or want to change? Are there events or reactions which are surprising without being totally out-of-character (unconvincing)? Is your character someone you would want to know, or avoid?
One thing I find helpful when writing fiction is to base my characters on a composite of people I know or with whom I have been acquainted. You can even take someone who is in the public eye. I try not to use one person because I would never want anyone to say to me, “That’s me, isn’t it?” My mother once thought a character was her because I set a scene in a room in her house! And this secondary character was not, initially, a nice person.
I hope this brief reflection on characters will be helpful to those of you who have an interest in writing fiction. In a future post, I’ll share a character development worksheet that I prepared for a character in novel #2 to give you something to hang your words on!
We’d like to invite you to share a brief paragraph or poem of your own presenting a character you’ve created or known somewhere along the road. There are two ways you can do it:
- Preferably, post your description on your own blog or website, then copy and paste the direct URL into the Mr. Linky, which is included at below at the end of this post. He will also ask you to include your name or another identifier.
- If you prefer, add your character sketch to the comments section.
- It’s nice, though not required to read others and leave a like or comment. I will visit all of them.
Happy writing; enjoy the process!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Linky is below Victoria’s bio ~
VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~ is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel. A second novel is in process. Jacaranda Rain — Collected poems, 2012 is available on Amazon, as is the hot-off-the-press nonfiction, Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s poetry collection and non-fiction book are free to Amazon Prime Members. Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.
12 thoughts on “WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY: Character Development in Fiction”
A fine prompt, Victoria. Thank you! Working with “Please Understand Me” is a great suggestion.
Just one question here – how long should a “brief paragraph” be?!
Thanks for your question, Liliana. I saw your post – Bravo! – and we’ll be over to read it later today. You did fine, so no worries. 🙂 … and thanks also for your participation.
nice “Share” Victoria!
Hope mine is not too off prompt. I set out to write a character description of a reptilian and what you see is what you got. The muse took over. Good post:)
I’m sure I’m breaking several rules and some interstate laws, but I chose to link a short story I wrote a while ago that not many have read.
Hope that’s OK. Life’s a little hectic and I wanted to participate. Thanks for the invite, Jamie and Victoria.
Good morning…I’ve caught up so far and enjoyed everyone’s work. Have another appointment but hope to link mine in the meantime. Happy writing.
I’ve just finished reading all the entries. Wonderful. I think we have a few more people in the process of preparing work. Thanks again, Victoria, for a wonderful prompt. 🙂
I usually create my characters on people I know. Will write and submit ASAP
here is my link Jamie, victoria hope this is what you were talking about:
Thank you, Sharmishtha! 🙂 Will read and also let Victoria know. Appreciate your participation.