J.M. Williams

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Discussion: Developing Characters

Oct
04

So I am coming to find that some of my most interesting characters start life a lot simpler. In my planning, these characters are often only props or tools for the protagonist to interact with. But after I start writing, they deepen into something more significant. The character profiles I have posted thus far on this blog are all of this type. As I think back on my writing in the past, I feel like this has always been the case for me.

As a short story writer by experience, I tend focus almost exclusively on the main character. What is the character arc? What is the conflict, the dilemma, and how does it relate to that character? Short stories tend to be very limited so they can become fixated on that one, or those two or three, leads. Understanding the plot, I then insert supporting characters to create conflict and momentum. I often don’t think about these characters too deeply. However, once the writing begins and I start toying with them, they tend to become more interesting.

I wonder if this is a common habit. How do you other writers build your characters? Do you do a lot of planning before you write? Or do you let things develop while you write? In general, how much to you plan and how much do you create while writing and revising?

I would appreciate any comments!

2 Responses to Discussion: Developing Characters

  1. Robert von Garrett

    Most of my character development happens as I am writing. Interesting characters seem to just emerge out of my head and before long I am writing back stories for them in the dialogue. As writers we can transcend time and space, so we can always go back a rework the character as we get a better feel for them. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of doing character profiles. For whatever reason they don’t really inspire a lot of creativity for me. They are more something I like to do later in the process to help with my book keeping, rather than to flesh out the character. I guess as well, for me at least, the joy I get from writing is exploring my world and discovering new things. Every writer is different though.

    • Right, I wrote my few character profiles here well after the character was developed. It was a means of recording, and sharing, what I had done so far. I don’t start with profiles or specific outlines. It’s good to know that other writers develop their ideas through the writing process; the bit about dropping names in dialogue being a starting point is something that happens to me too.

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