So, I'm trying my own attempt at writing and I keep having trouble with developing my characters. Are there any effective methods of developing fictional characters? It can just be a small idea or even a computer program as long as it helps. Lastly, it would also be helpful if someone could give me some tips on describing my characters in the 3rd person after I develop them.

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    Your last question, about describing them, is probably a separate question. On the main question, can you edit to say more about what aspects of character development you're having trouble with? Is your problem that they all seem generic, that you're having trouble fleshing out backgrounds, that you want to give each a distinctive style, or what? Thanks. May 27 '15 at 16:00
  • I second @MonicaCellio's comment - the last question about how to describe your characters in the third person should be a separate one.
    – M.Y. David
    May 28 '15 at 11:32

There are great books and many online resources about character development. They all rely on something like creating lists of characteristics (e.g. personality traits, moral values and so on) or writing your characters' curriculum vitae, but I take a somewhat different and much simpler approach.

When I read, I am usually deeply irritated by characters that act in a way that I wouldn't act. I understand that people are different and that not everyone feels, thinks and behaves like me, but when I read I don't want to read about characters that act stupid, selfish or cruel or in any other way that I ifind reprehensible. I want to read of the utopia where every person is trying their best to be a good person.

Since my motivation to write is to create the books that I would have liked to read, all my characters are like myself: broken by life, but compassionate, self-reflecting and fighting hard to grow and change and become better men and women. That way I don't need to invent more about my characters than some basic characteristics such as age, gender and role in story, because beyond that I know them as intimately as myself and don't have to invent anything.

And I find that the people who read my stories find my characters and their behaviour very realistic and life-like -- probably because the people in my life and my target audience are in fact quite similar to myself and not at all so different.

Whether my practice can serve as a useful recommendation to anyone else, I cannot say.

  • Thanks! I've never actually looked at it the way you just described, but I kind of like your suggestion. I'll try it out and just see what happens. I appreciate the help! :D
    – Sam Robey
    May 24 '15 at 22:51

In addition to what's answer, I'd like to share some of my experiences with character development. what is right: There is an abundcance of books and practical guides to character development. However, none of them have worked very well for me. Now and then I picked up a technique that made sense to me, and more or less forged it into a reliable algorithm of how to develop characters. The goal is to end up with a character that you have a very distinct feeling about. For me, having achieved this is similar to being able to sense the "aura" of the character. He or she is decidedly distinct from other characters that I have worked with and has a personality that can not be simply bend by my personal wishes. Only when the character starts to resist ideas that I want to impose on it, I feel ready to place it into the story. Here's how I go about developping such characters:

  1. What is the essence of your story? What is the one central thing that the character needs to do? Can you identify broad characteristics that are necessary for the character to have? Make a very rough draft of the character you are interested in: Sex, sexual orientation, age, relationship status, etc. Put some thought into what the character is supposed to do in your story. Develop the character with that idea in mind. In the terminology of James N. Frey, formulate the premise of your character. You will find that there is very little conditions imposed by formulating a premise. However, it will give you a tool with which to direct your efforts. (And developping a character is a lot of effort. Don't underestimate this.)
  2. The last thing on this (very short) agenda: Listen to your character. Work with it. It will feel strange and generic in the beginning, but the more you work with the character, the more its personality will emerge. As a rule of thumb, I write about 100 pages about a main character before I put him/her into action. I need this time to get to know the character, to get used to his quirks, discover his likings and dislikings, possible neuroses, etc. It's a lot like striking up a relationship: It takes time to get to know the other. - How to work with a character you don't know? Do whatever feels right to you. I write biographies. Another possibility is to let the character write letters to someone else (maybe yourself). Either way, you need to develop a feeling of how your character acts. The only way to achieve this is to really push it into action. A last method I find appealing is to slip into the character's skin: Grab a friend or someone else who won't hospitalize you on the grounds of suspected schizophrenia. Don the role of your character. Have a conversation as your character. If you are comfortable with having such a conversation and you don't have to actively think about what your character would do in this situation, the character is ready.

tl;dr: Listen to your characters. Try to perceive them as independent personalities, do not try to actively shape them or push them into a specific direction. To achieve this: Be honest. Developping characters, for me at least, operates on the boundary between the conscious and the subconscious. It's essential that you look at what your subconscious is giving you: Tiny details you picked up on during your day, character traits you had burried deep inside yourself or noticed in other people. Do not avert your gaze, even - especially - if it is nasty, unusual, surprising.

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