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I keep hearing the terms "character development" and "characterisation", but I'm still not sure what they mean? How does one "develop" a character?

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Character development can refer to either the task of sitting down and creating a character (working out their appearance, history, mannerisms, and so on), or it can refer to the change a character undergoes during the course of a story.

In the first instance, the idea is to create a fictional person, complete with flaws and weaknesses, history, mannerisms, hopes, fears, someone that is often even more real than people you meet in real life. This is (generally) a person you will use in your story, whether as a protagonist or antagonist. It's like you getting to know someone so well that you know absolutely everything about them. Just how much you need to know depends on how important the character is to the story, but generally speaking, the more you know about the character, the better able you'll be able to write about them in relation to your story.

In the second instance, character development describes the change an individual undergoes through the course of a story as a result of the conflict or conflicts that person encounters. Think of the character Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, who begins as a crotchety, tight-fisted, greedy old man, but over the course of the story, various "conflicts" force him to change his ways so that, by the end, he becomes a better man, generous and kind.

  • I'm aware that technically "characterization" is the process of actually describing a character, but regarding OP's question, wouldn't the first scenario you described fall more into the characterization category? – DeVil Jun 3 '11 at 11:29
  • @DeVil - Yes, the first scenario falls under characterisation, but "character development" can be used to mean "characterisation", depending on context. Example: "I'm going to spend some time on character development, and work out his history." – Craig Sefton Jun 3 '11 at 11:37
  • This is the 3rd best answer Im giving you today Craig! Well done! – Shantnu Tiwari Jun 7 '11 at 14:38
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    The two are often used interchangeably, meaning "fleshing out the character" - both in designing them and in showing them to the audience. Remember the Han Solo and Greedo scene in Star Wars? Its impact on the whole story was minor but it was essential to develop the character of Han, as a ruthless, practical mercenary with no qualms, and subsequent re-release where Greedo shot first caused fan outrage as it totally reversed characterization of Han Solo (not to mention it made the scene far less plausible.) – SF. Jun 24 '13 at 10:07
  • The most effective character development is that which is shown, not told, in my opinion (and hopefully in general). The Han and Greedo scene mentioned above is a good example of this. You learn a great deal about Han Solo through this scene. He's in debt, he's on the run, and he cares for little but himself (or so he thought...). Characters can often be developed on the fly, as if you are learning the character as you write your story. For some characters you may need only start with little more than a single sentence and everything else can be improvised from that. – Nick Bedford Nov 6 '14 at 2:34

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