How to Develop Characters Over Time.

melisande together
Young and older Melisande Flamestouch

I recently wrote an article about character sheets, and the methods I use to keep a running sheet while writing. In this post I’m going to go over some techniques and reasons why I believe you should let your character develop over the writing, rather than quantifying them.

People cannot be quantified.

IQ tests, EQ tests, psychological examination; people have been trying to quantify humans for as long as we have been humans. Apparently I have a below average IQ, and yet, have completed a university degree in multimedia, run a successful business, can construct a sentence, and worked in a Casino for two years (a very logic and mathematically drive role).

So, the conclusion is that these tests developed to define people simply don’t work. So why would you think that when writing believable characters you can succeed where trained professionals have failed?

People change over time

If you had have told me five years ago I’d be a freelance graphic designer, working towards being a published novelist I’d have laughed in your face, bitterly. Plenty of boys will tell you they want to be a fire-fighter or an astronaut but very few actually do. It’s not because they can’t; they simply don’t want to any more .. Except maybe in the astronaut department, who wouldn’t want to go into space?

…Space is so interesting.

Sorry, yes as a character ages their personality changes. They mature, they become warmer, or colder, stronger or perhaps even weaker.

I mostly write about wimpy characters who develop into war-machines. Relating to my post about Improve your writing by playing video games pt1 and pt2, and, using video games as a research tool, I think of my characters as toons in an RPG. They start off at level one; farming or smithing, or cooking, and then they hit the road. Levelling up as they go.

People have moods

If you have a character sheet that says “Trish: Happy-go-lucky scamp” it inhibits your from turning Trish into a dark character, or renders your characters useless. Think of all the people you know. Even the happiest-go-luckiest person on the planet has days where they just feel blah.

Everyone has bad and good days.

Events shape character

To use a cliché, simple example; A nice, happy man, married with kids goes through a horrific divorce before his entire extended family is killed in a plane crash… Three were on the plane, which crashed into the others’ house during Christmas dinner… He wasn’t at Christmas dinner because he had to attend a Christmas-day-court session over child custody.

This bizarre turn of events will change the character drastically. They may still appear hard working, but their life will be racked by emotional pain from losing everything.

Wrap up

Complex characters change, improve and develop. As a writer, you gotta consider this fact when writing or you’ll wind up with flat, wooden characters.

How do you go about writing characters? Do you let them evolve, or plan them writer from the get go?

Thanks for reading,

Cortez

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