The Writer's Bag of Tricks
Character Development Part 2
For the last couple of weeks, you’ve been working on creating character profiles. Well, maybe. You might have said, “Why do I need to do this?” I know. It can be a weird exercise if you are not used to it. After all, these are not real people. They are fake, pretend people. Who cares?
Here’s the deal.
Before you worked on your character bio, you just had Dr. Betty Boomerang, the expert in Medieval Literature whose expertise was needed to keep the world safe from terrorists who used Medieval codes in their warning memos (or whatever) before they bombed points of interest in your city. Betty rambled from point A to point B, but she never seemed to be a real person. Poor Betty is a flat and underdeveloped character. You've made things up for her as you went along to add interest to her as a character. You’ve tried to add some sparkle to Betty’s big blues, but she still seems flat and shallow. Your critique group doesn’t have any connection with her, and Poor Betty is the worst possible kind of character…she is boring.
But, if you worked up Betty’s bio, you would know that Manny Stump pushed her off the back porch and chipped her front tooth when she was in third grade, and this is why she is self-conscious and doesn’t smile much. People think she is super serious, though she isn't. Sure, Betty could get her tooth fixed but she was raised not to be vain by her hyper-religious mother, and this is also why Betty is single. Her guilt and shame regarding sex are not something she has overcome yet, even though she is thirty-seven. You would know that Betty saw her sister fall from a tree and die at the age of nine, and this is why she has an unnatural curiosity regarding death and death practices. It stems from Betty's early childhood. Consequently, she has spent her life studying Medieval literature and all the ways that people died and were tortured in the middle ages, and why she knows all about Malleus Maleficarum. You would think that Betty would be frightened of confronting terrorists and seeing the dead at the explosion site, but Betty’s motivation is so great that she revels in beating the terrorists and saving lives. Now Betty is a real person, with a real past, and when you write her, whether consciously or unconsciously, Betty comes alive. By the end of the book, maybe she even has a wild and crazy night with the super cute detective she met on the case. That certainly stirs things up for her character and is a nice ending to her internal story arc.
Will you use all this stuff you created for Betty in the book you are working on? Probably not, but the fact that you now think of her as a real person, instead of a flat character makes your book all that much better. Your critique group is thrilled! Maybe you will submit this manuscript to a publisher!
Having a past makes Betty more interesting, and the fact that you now know her intimately means that you can use some of that knowledge to figure out your plot. You can use Betty’s past to figure out her motives and goals, and how she will overcome all the conflict she is about to encounter.
Knowing this stuff helps you with the four things that readers learn when they read your book:
• WHY NOT
If you haven’t yet created your character bios, I do recommend you work on it for each and every character in your book. It will help each character be a distinctive, three-dimensional person with their own voice, motives, and goals. No flat and boring characters, please.
Next time: We move toward WHAT