Developing “real” characters can be one of the hardest tasks in writing. Even with no dialogue, character development must be tackled. Characters can be anyone or anything. Your character could be a house, a dog, a person. The character’s hopes, dreams, fears and oddities that make them complete. Many authors fall into the trap of making characters who are only one dimensional; all evil, all good, all fearful. Others have only a single character to work from, based mostly on an idealized view of themselves.

A good exercise in character development is to try a short story with only one character. Establish and environment and experiment with the character’s relationship to that environment. If you can separate yourself from your own experiences and consider actions and reactions based only on your imagination, you can expand that character. Keep writing until the fullness and depth are strong enough to stand on their own. There will be a lot of fluff that you will have to clean up, but in the end you will have learned about both your character and your writing.

This would be a development exercise. Almost all authors copy life in their initial efforts. We can do no better than document what we have witnessed. This is not a bad thing. Life is full of examples of complete characters. How many people have you ever met who do not have a story to tell? Your task as an author is to capture that story and make it enjoyable for others to read. From that, you can develop new and interesting characters. Some will be super natural, not is the super hero way, although that can work, but is a way that is not someone or something you have ever encountered. Some real life characters are super nature as they are remembered such as Attila the Hun and Hitler. Some of that is mythology, but some is real and what made them interesting in history.

Making non-human characters is even more fun. Animals are almost too easy since you can give them human characteristics. Many people truly believe that their car or television have personalities that can be converted into literary gold. Most will end up being human like, such as Kit on Knight Rider or the cast of The Brave Little Toaster. Disney Studios are brilliant with humanizing animals throughout the years.

I personally, have not attempted anything beyond human characters. In my first novel effort, I did provide some limited personality for various animals on a farm (two horses, a cow and a dog). These were not strong developments, they were interactions with the character I was developing. What I am suggesting is first – copy life, especially real life that you have personally experienced, then experiment with environmental cause and effect. All of this is to avoid filling your work with copies of you, or worse, someone you think you are.

–KEEP WRITING–

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Martin writes about writing in his weekly column Ramblings from Martin.

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