Today’s question is closely related to Monday’s question, so I wanted to get it out quickly so the answers can been seen together. After this I’ll answer a wider variety of questions, but I feel like these two answers should be viewed together to strength their meaning.
Madison says, I am an aspiring author, but I have recently been having trouble with my book. I can’t figure out how to better develop my characters and reach the climax. What do you suggest I do in order to prevail this situation that I have found myself in?
Hopefully my previous post will help you get ideas about getting your characters to the climax (Recap hint: make a list of all the terrible calamities you can force them through) but you’ve touched on a VERY important concept with character development, so I want to give you an in depth answer.
You are right on in feeling that you need to have well developed characters for your story to move on. They need a set of behavior patterns by which they function. For example, Gemma from Rumpelstiltskin avoids talking and is self-sacrificing. Devin from the MBRC is incredibly flirtatious with Morgan, and a little jaded towards everyone else. Britt Arthurs from King Arthurs and her Knights is obsessed with making and avoiding King Arthur legends, and she hates Lancelot. Those characters won’t deviate from those behavior patterns. However, you want your characters to grow as part of the plot.
Let’s take another look at Gemma. She doesn’t deviate from her regular behavior patterns (Quiet and self sacrificing) but by the end of the book, her attitude has changed. She went from always giving for another’s sake and not relying on anyone, to believing and accepting that Stil loves her and wants to make sacrifices of his own for her. It is important to note that this change is a result of the climax, it is not the climax scene itself. (In a romance novel, however, the emotional development may very well be your climax.)
If your character doesn’t change from start to finish, it means they are either dense because they didn’t learn their lesson, or perfect, which is also bad because people generally don’t want to read about perfect characters. During the middle part of the story, you need to present the idea that your character wars with. For Tari from Red Rope it is the fact that she is an elf in love with a human. For Cinderella from Cinderella and the Colonel it is that she is in love with a man from the country that is supposed to be her enemy. As you can see, love is usually the concept I have my character wrestle with, but there’s lots of other options. Take Legolas and Gimli from Lord of the Rings. They dislike each other because of their races, but by the end of the books they’re best friends.
A tool to help you develop your characters is to ask yourself, “What do I want them to learn?” Mind you, each character might need to learn something different. (Like Arion. He didn’t care Tari was an elf, but he had to learn to open his mouth.) Once you have identified what you want them to learn, try to imagine scenarios that would highlight this difficulty. Readers will like your characters more if they make a few embarrassing blunders or face tough situations caused by their emotional issues. (Cinderella rocks back and forth between her love for Friedrich and her desire to preserve Aveyron. Raven from Life Reader is forced to reveal her powers or face the destruction of her coworkers.) The basic idea is to stick them between a rock and a hard place, and use the trial to help smooth out your character’s flaws.
Character development adds interest, but it is also crucial because it reflects real life. When people face adversity it is painful and difficult, but they come through the trial in three ways: Stronger, twisted, or weakened. Try to incorporate all three reactions in your characters. While a particular trial might make your hero stronger, it might turn their best friend into a villain, and so weaken their love interest that the love interest becomes a shell of who they used to be.
Writing is a lot like driving multiple pairs of horses. You have a set of reins for each pair, and you have to keep them all straight as you direct the horses and drive the cart along. With stories you have to keep tabs on the plot of the book (the events) the subplots (spikes of action that prop up the plot) character development (the emotional drive behind characters) relationships, tone, and more. All of these ‘reins’ are deep and seem awkward, but the faster you learn to balance and control them, the more quickly you will improve.
My final pro-tip: try to think of what you want your character to learn BEFORE you start the book–that opens up avenues to bring in characters and situations early on to help highlight your character’s development process. For instance, if Legolas wasn’t brought in at the same time as Gimli, their friendship wouldn’t be what it was. Also, be aware that your characters won’t be perfect by the end of the book, they should merely be more mature, or wiser–not flawless.
I hope that answers your question, Madison. If you need me to make any clarifications, please ask in the comments!