Techniques for Character Development

However you approach storytelling, the heart of every memorable tale beats with the life of its characters and character development. My journey into writing has taught me that characters are not merely fictional beings but the soul of our stories. In fact, characters can sometimes take on a life of their own. Many is the time that I have planned a story down to the chapter level, and known where the characters will start and end within each chapter – only to have some guy go rogue and tell me, “Not today, my friend!”

If you can get to a level where your characters take the lead themselves, then you’ve probably got a pretty good handle on them. You understand them, their motivations, their needs. But if you’re not quite there yet, here are some insights into creating multifaceted characters using psychological theories and character arcs. It’s a process that can transform good writing into something truly magical.

Just make sure to keep them a little bit under control.

The Foundation of Character Development

My fascination with character creation began with an exploration of psychological theories. Nah, not really. I always enjoyed creating characters from when I was young, telling my mum stories and getting her to write them down.

They were undoubtedly awful, but that’s how you get better – you’re always going to suck to begin with.

Next, I got into Dungeons & Dragons and the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. Character creation here was important as it could affect the outcome of the game significantly. 

However, psychological theories can shed some light on to character creation if you are over ten years old. These theories offer a blueprint for understanding human behavior, which is crucial in crafting realistic and relatable characters.

It even works for comedic characters, as no matter what, they must have a driving force. In my Bentley Hill novels, Owen O’Donnell is the comedy relief in a humorous story – but he isn’t just a clown. He wants gin and food, but he craves approval and friendship. He’s a lonely man who has reached the stage where he has no concerns for his own safety and will try to do anything to please anyone – until one day, he’ll snap, and then there will be trouble. And you thought he was just a loon!

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, for example, can be a cornerstone in my character development process. By understanding what drives characters at different levels – from basic needs like safety to higher goals like self-actualization – you can create complex personalities with compelling motivations.

Equally useful is something like Carl Jung’s theory of Archetypes. Identifying which archetype characters embody – the Hero, the Jester, or the Caregiver – allows a deeper examination of their psyche, providing a rich background for their actions and decisions.

Owen would most likely be the Everyman with a touch of the Jester upon first glance, requiring a sense of belonging and deriving pleasure from his pursuits. But maybe he has a touch of the Ruler underneath everything, and it’s slowly coming out.

Or maybe he is just a loon.

Crafting Complex Characters through Character Arcs

A character without change is like a story without conflict – flat and unengaging. This is where the magic of character arcs comes into play. A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of the story. This can range from a positive change, like growth or redemption, to a negative descent into despair or corruption.

Taking Owen again, he starts off in “The Ghost Under The Stairs” as a slightly strange man who loves to wear green. He often carries a bag around with him, contents unknown, but occasionally a bowling ball. No matter how hard he tries, something always goes wrong for him. He gets upset, injured, lost, or any other number of disasters, but always emerges with a fix, an assist, or a smile. But it plays on his mind, and you can see he’s slowly starting to lose it as time goes on.

Another character in these stories is Emily Ravenscroft. She has an interesting name, but mostly appears as a sidekick, an afterthought. But her name has meaning – she has a backstory that is yet to be fully revealed. Suffice it to say, weird things happen when she gets angry or emotional, and there’s a Manor House that one of her ancestors used to own that the present owner is trying to remove all the hand-carved pentagrams from.

These are fun stories, but you can see the point – knowing where your character comes from can inform where they are going, and if you know their destination, you can write them there.

Practical Exercises for Aspiring Writers

To breathe life into characters, you can employ a few exercises. Try writing a letter from my character’s perspective at different points in their arc. This not only helps to understand their evolving viewpoint but also their voice and the subtleties of their personality change.

Another exercise I find useful is the creation of a ‘needs and fears’ chart. By listing what my characters desperately need against what they are terrified of losing or facing, I can craft narratives that push them into the crucible of change, driving the story forward.

Incorporating Character Development into Your Writing Routine

Making character development part of your writing routine can open up new avenues of creativity. Try dedicating time each week to delve into one character’s background, motivations, and arc. This continuous focus ensures that the characters are not just passengers but become the driving force of any stories.

Moreover, I’ve learned to embrace the fluidity of character development. As I mentioned earlier, characters can take on a life of their own, leading the story in unexpected directions. It’s a thrilling aspect of writing, one that keeps me coming back to the blank page, eager to discover where my characters will take me next.

Except that one guy. I don’t want to know where he’s going, or where he’s been.

Character development is an art that blends psychology, empathy, and creativity. It’s a journey I’ve found both challenging and immensely rewarding. As you venture into your own stories, remember that the depth of your characters can lift your writing from ordinary to unforgettable.