Do you remember names like “JeanValjean”, “Hannibal Lechter”, “Dorothy”, “Mac Beth’s wife”, and a host of historical and contemporary personages? Why? These personages were so well-developed and masterfully portrayed that they are unforgettable for ages past and ages to come.
The characters in your fictional piece can join the ranks of unforgettable people if you carefully develop them. These steps might help with that process.
Character development is an intricate process that requires some pre-planning. The use of a character “map” or outline is a good place to begin.
A physical description is necessary, but should be dealt with within the text at various intervals rather than in one sentence, paragraph, or chapter.
Consider the background of each character if such information would add personal depth and understanding of the character. Part of a family? Details of childhood? Trauma along the way?
Determine who and what each character would be at each important juncture of the piece (initially, after significant events or encounters, at points of conflict and resolution, and finally). What are the reactions of a particular character in the midst of a difficult situation, trial, emergency, or tragedy?
Use dialogue with other characters to reveal depth of personality, idiosyncrasies, motives, and/or conflicts. A principal character can be shaped by other secondary or tertiary characters when conversations are well written.
Resist the temptation to reveal too much about the character. Let the reader mentally fill in some blanks based on the information you have already presented.
Use specific adjectives and adverbs in the description of your character(s) to help the reader create a mental image of this person. Otherwise, let our graphic designer and illustrator do the job for you.
Make that character live on the pages of your work!
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Dr. Patricia L. Powell, Editor