COW: Character Development

Sometimes characters come to you and they overwhelm you. Other times, they sit there, doing nothing for you or to you. When that happens, you need to do some character development. Why? Because your character is doing nothing for you– and in turn, does nothing for the reader you’re writing for. Those who overwhelm you– they’re larger than life, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the ill. Either way, when you put them on the page, they’re stunning. Which is why we want to bring those who are less so to that same kind of brilliance. The funny thing is– you don’t need to do a lot to achieve the same effect. So let’s look at how to develop great characters. 
shortstoryCharacter Sheets– I love them and I hate them. I normally don’t use them when I first start writing. I write my first chapter or two letting the story flow. Then I go in and fill out my character sheets. This is basic information I need to know for all my characters, plus for the main characters, there are more things to ask. From the usual age, sex, height, weight, birthmarks, I go into fears, strengths, weaknesses, job, clothes they wear, what they do to relax, and what kind of people they hang out with. I also note their GMC (goals, motivations, and conflicts) on this sheet. It helps because it makes it easier to refer back to this when I am plotting out the story. For secondary characters, I might not have this much in reference, but I’ll show the links to the main characters and anything of interest on why they’re there in the story.
Character Journals– I never used to do this. Now, now I absolutely adore this process. I might not do a lot of it, but I do enough of it because it allows me to get into the voice of the character and it gives me insights I might not get from the character sheets alone. I normally start with whatever scene I know they might be in or even what they think of another character– asking them how they feel or think of this whole situation. From there, I let them talk in their own voice. It’s amazing what comes out of them and how it comes out. You get dialect, you get emotional depth, plus you get differences in how they act and react versus what you might be tempted to put down as the author yourself. This is huge in bringing the character to full development. You might discover that saying “Cleo leapt over the bush” isn’t her style. “Cleo lunged after the cat, almost stumbling into the bush at the last minute” is more appropriate and gives a whole new look at your character.
Character Verbs and Descriptives– Cynnara has lost her mind. She’s assigning verbs to characters. Actually I am. I know it sounds silly, but some verbs work with one character in particular but you would NEVER use with another. Why? They’re too stately, too comic, too lazy, too industrious, too whatever. The idea here is you put this list on your character sheet– descriptives and verbs associated with your character. This way, you know how to emotionally associate action to your character that differentiate him/her from anyone else. So if your main character is an active person who takes charge in all situations, we might use words like  “industrious,” “organized,” “proactive,” and “go-getter.” Those descriptions along with verbs like “rushed,” “moved,” “cranked out,” tells us more about the character than simple ones like “walked” or “ran.” It’s a simple way to help give life to the character.
Let’s put it together for something simple and easy. Cleo, our intrepid mystery solver, is a bit clumsy when she’s excited. She also has celiac disease– she can’t eat anything with wheat in it. Emotionally, she hates spiders, snakes are not friends, and cats are things of pure evil. Dogs are great. Her family comes first in her life, and her friends are special to her. Yet, for all that happens, she’s a curious individual. When you talk to her, Cleo sounds like this, “Sometimes, my fam doesn’t understand how comes I do the things I do. Working as a vet, I should love all animals. You’d be wrong, so very wrong. Cats are the most evil things in the universe. Dogs love you regardless. Though some think you are there to hurt them. Other animals are fun and fuzzy. Yet, for all my family love and support, they think I need a man. Me, the one they think should drop everything for them, needs a man. Right. A man to see the family who defines crazy. I think not.”
Some of the verbs and descriptives we can use for Cleo are– protective, caring, clumsy, self-restraint, dog fancier, curious. This helps a lot when we’re trying to find ways to use actions to describe how she moves and talks to others. This will help too when we’re showing her in her element– her vet office. Perhaps we can showcase her in a scene with a cat– a Persian blue. Right there, we can see Cleo being more restrained, perhaps a bit standoffish, even a little nervous toward the cat. “Oh, Agnes, she’s a beauty, but she doesn’t seem to like me any better than when she was a kitten,” Cleo stated with a heavy sigh, her hands a bit jittery as she checked Natasha’s legs and belly. See, how much more we see about our vet with the verbs and descriptives? This helps develop her more with less than otherwise.
What about secondary characters? The same things apply. Good descriptives, great verbals when they talk and use of strong verbs will help create a character that sticks with a reader long after the story is finished. It can seem difficult but by using techniques which can become second nature, you’ll pull the best from yourself and your characters.
ROW80 update– I have my release date for Pirate Queen’s Rebellion- tentative in November. *does happy dance* I have my cover for Teaching the Male. *does butt boogie* My work is driving me batty. *shoots off firecrackers so I won’t do something mean and miserable* Writing, I’ve done my blogs this week. It’s been hell this week. Pure hell with the work stuff happening. I can’t go into a lot of details, but let’s just say– once again, my schedule is changing for yet a SECOND time and I’ll be going to training again at the end of the month for another company within my company– it’s enough to make me go nuts. *sigh* I’m hoping for some writing time later. Yeah– later– but not on Friday, since now I have to work Friday night. *grumbles and says bad words* But yeah. Sometime.

One thought on “COW: Character Development”

  • Thanks for the look at how you dig into character. I do some of these, but not at all in an organized way. Just now, I’m struggling with how to write a villain. Since my story requires conflict (as do they all), I can’t have my characters simply facing obstacles of nature, right? So I will persevere. Meanwhile, despite the shifts at work, your post here suggests you ARE writing. Happy dance for Pirate’s Queen and that new cover for the other book. Now what’s next???

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