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– Myra On Writing –

Character Development
by: Myra Nour

I will cover many different aspects of character development in this article; some I have personally used, others I haven’t. Since there is so much information, this topic will be covered in several articles. You, the writer, will have to decide what works for you and utilize the techniques. But, if you’re just getting started and are not sure what may work, I suggest you dabble in all, until you find the one that does it for you.

One method, which is widely used for developing realistic characters, is making a checklist of character traits and personality type, etc. Following, are many suggestions for compiling your characters own unique personality and “look”:

I guess the first item of business, is to name your character. Perhaps some writers may create a character’s personality before thinking of a name, and there have been time’s when I’ve done this myself; you have to decide which comes first – the chicken or the egg…Anyway, names?? Ask yourself if your character is going to need a good old English one, a modern name, or maybe a strange one you might expect to hear on another planet.

When I created the names for Volarnians, I used several different techniques. Sometimes, I took a common name & changed it slightly, i.e., Perris from Perry; and sometimes I simply created something odd by finding new ways of combining letters, thus Szafra. The hardest name was a majestic one for the King of Volarn. I thought of various human kingly names, then changed slightly the Egyptian king, Rameses, to Rhamus.
Of course if you’re really stuck, you can get a book of names and flit through the pages until something tickles your fancy. This goes for foreign names as well.

Physical description. How old is your character? How tall, short? Are they obese, skinny, hour-glass figure? What color is their hair, how long or short, how do they style it? Are there any distinguishing marks or features; such as, moles, birthmarks, dimples, beautiful long legs, a hairless body? And if it’s important to the story, what race or ethnic group do they belong to?

Other descriptors. What’s their family background? Did your character come from a large family, were they a single child, or perhaps an orphan? Did they attend college or other schooling? Does your character have any special talents or skills? Do they have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, or sew as well as a professional tailor, paint like Renoir’, can make angels out of bits of paper and twine, or maybe they’re a rodeo champion? Get the drift. In Love’s Captive, Serena the heroine, was a wrestler!

Also, if the character’s religious beliefs are an element, throw that in too. There are other items that you will have to decide whether they’re important to the story line; such as, what does your character do for a living, or did they have prior military experience? Were they a Navy Seal, Ranger, or served in Desert Storm?

I think this is enough to get you started, until next time when we’ll cover personality, your characters likes & dislikes, and so on. Just remember, you can use as many, or few, of the listed items as you feel are necessary to create your special character/characters. Some writers fill out an inventory of their characters full life spectrum, even to items that will not be in the story line, so that they feel they really know the character in-depth.

Part Two

In this portion of the continuing article on character development, I’ll be covering some of the techniques for discovering the personality of your character/characters.

One of the important elements I do as a writer, is simply open my eyes and look around! What are your neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family personalities like? Does your neighbor sing opera while wearing skimpy swim trunks when he mows the lawn? Does a co-worker seem sweet to almost everyone, yet you know her tongue’s as poisonous as a viper? Does your best friends laugh always set you off too, or make you feel happy? Does a relative’s sarcasm make you feel like a Little child or so angry you literally “see red”?

Open all your senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch, and psychic – and sense the world around you as if you were an alien stepping onto Earth for the 1st time.

Now, use those senses for further observation: Does your co-worker wear cologne so cloying, you gag, or smell so very nice you love being near them? Does a family member cook spaghetti as fantastic as your Italian grandmother or cookies so dry, you choke? Does your partner’s touch send Little electric tingles through you or does an uncle’s touch send chills of warning instead? Does a neighbor scream like a harpy or perhaps have a melodious English accent that perks up your ears every time? Does a mall shopper look like Mel Gibson’s brother and your eyes just can’t stop following him? Does your heart pound uneasily or your body flush with an uncomfortable feeling every time your land lord comes a-knocking…and you know it’s not because he’s there to fix the plumbing…something’s not right with him and your body’s trying to tell you?

There are aspects of people in our lives which we love, hate, are disgusted at, could care less about, shocked at, pleasantly surprised, etc. If you want to make your characters really “come alive”, pick and choose elements of people you know and use them. It may not be a good idea to copy someone exactly…maybe they will recognize themselves and not be flattered by the comparison. Instead, if you choose from several different people and make a composite personality for your character, then you not only avoid offending someone, but create a unique character all your own.

© 2000 by Myra Nour

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