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Character Development

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Wahlquistj
(@wahlquistj)
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What are your techniques for character development? I've read so many books about in-depth character dossiers, but I find when I do those I lose the ability to write my characters freely and my dialogue becomes stunted. What do you do to help your characters become well-rounded participants in your stories?

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Physa/ Guthington/ Amy
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This is a cute video regarding character development. Perhaps it will get your creative juices flowing.  4 Pixar Story Rules That Make Characters Memorable.

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David Hankins
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Posted by: @wahlquistj

What are your techniques for character development? I've read so many books about in-depth character dossiers, but I find when I do those I lose the ability to write my characters freely and my dialogue becomes stunted. What do you do to help your characters become well-rounded participants in your stories?

I often try to model character personalities after people I know. That helps me put more depth into them without having to create a whole profile from scratch. 

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Cherrie
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I generally start with some kind of archetype or basic description or function they need to perform in the world and then as I begin to write their first scenes I let them tell me what they want and I ask them questions about why. It’s all very freeform and on the fly. My characters start conversations with each other in my head a lot without bidding. I find they tend to take on magnified aspects of my personality or the personalities of people I know. I give them quirks or little weirdnesses to make them more real. Eventually they become real enough that they are hard to manipulate and I have to let them do their thing. Sometimes it happens fast and I find their characters become more solid when I let them do what they want. Like Theresa in the beginning of my series. She started telling me no right away. I think of it like an old acting wisdom I was taught. “If you start a scene in the right place you’ll end in the right place.” So start out with a character  that feels real and let them have an emotional life and they’ll grow and develop as long as they have autonomy.

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Wahlquistj
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Posted by: @clfors

Like Theresa in the beginning of my series. She started telling me no right away. I think of it like an old acting wisdom I was taught.

Theresa is such a great character. I could see her in my mind right away.

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Cherrie
(@clfors)
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@wahlquistj ??? I’m glad you connected with her.

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Anna X
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Posted by: @clfors

I generally start with some kind of archetype or basic description or function they need to perform in the world...It’s all very freeform and on the fly...they become real enough that they are hard to manipulate and I have to let them do their thing...

I definitely agree with you here. My characters love telling their own stories. I can think of something in my head, but if it doesn't fit, it's not getting written.

I normally start with a name, mostly made-up, and whatever sounds like it fits. I go for the first thing that comes to mind. It doesn't take much effort at all in creating a name. Then I start writing something the character is doing, and then I find that the more I write, the easier it is for the words to just appear of what they want to say. I don't have to think a lot about any of it. My characters don't fit a mold. The stories fit them. It's their stories, not mine.

My writing is pretty freeform too. There's no planning, period. I used to write elaborate outlines, chapter by chapter, and when I start writing, it's all out the window. That's because whatever is being written isn't what I want to be written, but is a story being told by the characters. Your story isn't your own when at the beginning, you make mention of some off the wall thing you've soon forgotten about, and somewhere in the book or even several books later, that off the wall thing becomes necessarily important; that is when you realize the story is telling itself.

I believe that if you want well-rounded characters, let them grow. That means, let them make mistakes. Let them overcome things. Most importantly, let them get hurt. Let them lose. Let them die. It sounds harsh, but the best characters are the ones that are much different at the end of the book than they were at the beginning.

I wish you the best in creating amazing characters!

~ I honestly believe that good stories write themselves. You can always start writing a story, but the characters tell their own tales and if you're lucky enough, you get to merely be in the audience watching everything unfold. ~ 8/1/2022
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Morgan
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Posted by: @wahlquistj

What are your techniques for character development? I've read so many books about in-depth character dossiers, but I find when I do those I lose the ability to write my characters freely and my dialogue becomes stunted. What do you do to help your characters become well-rounded participants in your stories?

What a great question! And so many unique approaches. For me, the longer the story, the more developed the character needs to be. For my WOTF short stories, I have just three requirements for my main character:

  1. They desperately want something
  2. Because they have some unfulfilled internal need
  3. Which is usually the result of some tragic event that happened in their past

I don't bother with detailed character trait sheets or character bibles or any of that stuff. I honestly don't care what their favorite color or food is. I also don't care much about eye or hair color. I DO wanna know what psychological or emotional baggage they're bringing to the story. I have to know what they want and why they want it so I know what kinds of obstacles to throw in their path. And I want to know what traumatic event(s) shaped them into the person they are because that will determine the moral compass they use to think and feel and make decisions.

"Writers WRITE. And they finish what they start."
— Chuck Wendig
Drop me a line at https://morganbroadhead.com
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Joe Benet
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Posted by: @wahlquistj

What are your techniques for character development? ... in-depth character dossiers, but I lose the ability to write my characters freely and my dialogue becomes stunted

Why stunted? Your character's dialog should reflect them, not your freedom. If the character is ADHD, they may speak in multiple, incomplete run-ons before finishing their thought. In other words, the character's dossier (written or not) informs you how to record their dialog. However, in any case, the dialog should flow naturally like we speak, not like we write.

Character development and dialog are related, but independent. To develop the character, I try to pick a trait or two from each of the Negative Trait Thesaurus and Positive Trait Thesaurus (Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi). Then, as the character interacts with their environment and pursues the solution to their problem, they do so within the reasonable limits of that personality.

Perhaps the original question revolves around the fact that you want your first draft to be better? Nothing wrong with that, but perhaps consider just writing the first draft dialog as naturally as possible that conveys the intent, then relook with an ear on "the character" afterward.

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