The Art of Character Development
By Emily Alvarez
Characters are the glue of every story. I say this because, well, in reality they are the reason a reader will read past chapter one. Without interesting characters, your plot has no significance. I cannot express to you all how many covers I have closed because the characters lacked any texture. Yes, the story sounded absolutely thrilling on the back of the book jacket but Bob and Bertha just killed it. What I hate even more is when I actually like the plot and it is enough for me to continue past chapter one but then the author stops developing Bob and Bertha. Then to make matters worse, Satchel the random second cousin twice-removed on Bob’s mother’s side, swoops in to completely distract you from the original point of the story! Then you must hear pointless mumbo jumbo about how upset Satchel was at his grocery store because he forgot his perfectly clipped coupons on the kitchen counter. We must not forget that this tragic situation will go on for the next four pages. It’s irritating and exhausting, I know. Just like how you are probably feeling reading this post. So, I will get to the point…
Here are a few tips from your friendly RRP editing bookworm who absolutely loves to write herself:
- You love your characters so make the reader love them too!
~Trust me, your readers want to fall in love with your book. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have purchased it! What you must understand as a writer is that you must develop and create a back-story to your characters so that your readers can connect the pieces. Let your readers in on the details within each of your beloved creations and how each of them connects with one another/their environment. There is nothing more tragic than reading an epic scene and not being able to connect with the characters being affected due to you, the writer, not supplying the back-story and layers necessary. It’s like watching Filli die in the third Hobbit installment. We barely paid any attention to him in particular and then there’s this dramatic scene portraying his death. You want to cry like someone has just backed into your new dream car and you just can’t. So please, take heed and create those amazing backgrounds for your characters that connect them intricately into your brilliant creation. Your readers will be hounding you for your next piece as a result.
- Don’t shift into overdrive with the dialogue.
~Ahhhhh, I know it’s tempting. I have been very, very guilty of this myself. Too much dialogue turns your novel into more of a play rather than a book. It can be exhausting and can be a turn-off to many readers because what may be amazing to you, may not be as thrilling to them. I am currently on the third draft of my own novel simply due to the amount of dialogue I have. Here is my suggestion (which I openly acknowledge has been used by many classic authors): on a separate document/sheet of paper, have conversations with your own characters. Work out their problems with them, scream at them, cry with them, and maybe even throw a second character in the conversation. Get all of that dialogue out on the table. Everything that you want to say, say with passion and ease. You’ll feel so much better.
Now, switch back to your main document and cut that dialogue down by at least half. I can hear you already, “Well if you’re such an expert at it, then why are you on your third draft because of dialogue?!” My response: EXACTLY. I am taking my own advice.
- Grab a few new books for reference
~Reading what is being published always helps for two reasons: one they are published (huge accomplishment) and two they offer insight into what people are reading. Read authors who are on the bestseller list and read authors who aren’t selling well. This gives you two perspectives on how to write. See how other authors are developing their characters and how much dialogue is being put into play. Factor in how long the author has been around when choosing because they could be fairly new and therefore, just picking up speed.
As I come to a close, I must turn my inner future soccer mom on and say, “Get out there and score!” Yes, by score I mean write. Now don’t become too skittish about writing too much or have an intimidating image of me putting you in a chokehold over it. It takes lots of practice and definitely lots of time. Please ease into it and remember that your readers will thank you and praise you and maybe even bring you Starbucks at your first book-signing. Oh those well deserved perks! Writers, go pour yourself a cup of caffeine, clean your spectacles, and dive in.
Emily Alvarez is an avid writer and reader of historical fiction and comedy. She loves witty, unforgettable characters that represent the true ups and downs of human life. Emily is a southern California native and received her Bachelors Degree in English from the University of California, Fullerton. She is currently working on several writing projects and is part of the River Ram Press editorial team.