Character development is something that people have written many, many books about. However, I have learned some important lessons about character development in the writing of Lies of the Haven that I hope I can share with you.
First off, if you do the things I discuss in my previous blog post Writing Plot and Conflict you will be on your way to having some great character development! However, there is more you need to do in order to really bring your characters to life.
#1 Establish Sympathy
When I first started writing Lies of the Haven, I had many people tell me that Mina wasn’t a very sympathetic character, meaning they couldn’t relate to her and didn’t particularly like her. I ended up having to do a few things in order to fix the problem. First, I added a bit more to the beginning so that you know from the beginning why Mina is trying to destroy her Nana’s home. Although the reader knows her actions are misguided, at least they now understood why she was doing it. Sometimes if your character is doing something and you haven’t established why they are doing it, and it feels selfish, it can turn readers off.
Another thing I did was establish a moment (actually two moments) where Mina “saved the cat.” This is an expression in writing. In order to make your character more relatable and sympathetic, you show a moment where your character does something heroic or sympathetic (ie. saving the cat). This helps establish sympathy for your character. In Lies of the Haven, I establish two such moments. First, is when Mina stands up for a little kid against some bullies and the second is when she stands up for a faerie boy named Caelm who was being attacked by the unforgiving Thaya.
In writing, it is important that you don’t destroy sympathy for your character. Writers can do this mainly by having their characters do something the reader sees as selfish or lazy.
#2 Get To Know Your Characters
Of course, good character development includes knowing who your character is and how they would respond in different situations. For example, even though Mina struggles with her ability to lead and doubts herself, its not because she is a shy or doesn’t know how to stand up for herself (she does), but its because she is so pushy and over the top at times that she turns other people off. So I had to make this come across in Mina’s attitude where she engages in conflict rather than backing down, but also have her actions work against her in establishing her ability to lead–and thus she doubts herself.
#3 Be Consistent
Your readers will definitely notice if you try to make your characters do something outside of the personality you have established for them, so being consistent is important. If you are having your character do something they normally wouldn’t do, you usually need to make sure you establish why those particular circumstances are causing them to respond that way.
Sometimes you discover how your character would respond to different situations as you write and that’s actually a good sign. That means you know your character so well, the character’s response feels intuitive because of the personality you have established for them.
#4 Character Sketches
And of course, establishing backstory and character traits will help you to get to know the characters you are creating. That is why a lot of people do a character sketch for their main and sometimes side characters in order to get to know them before writing to ensure they are consistent in how they are presenting their characters. It also helps you establish well rounded characters so they don’t feel like a cardboard cutout.
***Thanks again to Katelynn for submitting such awesome questions!