Starting with a character is great. You’ve come up with the premise for them, understand their personality (hopefully) and have placed them into an environment. Now what? Well, firstly you should already have a character with flaws or a certain perspective on life which is why you develop that personality for them. So, firstly you have to answer what are they like and then toss a problem at them. Often times, this problem could be an obstacle that they are unprepared for or that works against some aspect about them. If you don’t necessarily have a problem that they can’t solve? Well, there are several ways you can pursue developing your character…
Learning a New Trade
Any type of ordinary learning experience is a good way to develop a character. When they are learning something new, they are stretching their brains. For instance, learning how to do a martial art might make someone’s balance better, their mood perhaps calmer or more confident.
Meeting a New Person
When you encounter a new person and hang out with them a lot, some of the things that they say or do will have an influence on you, particularly if you like that person or admire them. If your character is introduced to new individual characters with personality quirks unlike their own, they might pick up on certain things whether or not this is actually their intention. It could even be a person that the character actually dislikes and this character could either be a good or bad influence on them.
Failing at a Solution
It’s okay to let your character fail. Sometimes I see, especially in roleplaying but also with people dreaming of writing their own novel, this strong resistance to letting go of control and an inability to let the character finish at anything less than perfect. Firstly, your character should have flaws at the get-go. No one is perfect and neither is a believable character. Secondly, sometimes they just can’t win. But if you do have your character fail at something, whether it be a battle of strength, wits or just doing their mundane everyday job, make sure that they at least learn from it for the next time (unless your character’s flaw is that they are an imbecile or something which COULD work too). If you have your character in a situation and fail, then a similar situation comes up, they shouldn’t be coming at it like it’s brand new to them. Give them a contingency plan even. There are a lot of well-known characters that have failed at something. Even Sherlock Holmes was outsmarted in a case by Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia”.
Okay, well, not necessarily blindsided, per say? But any time you have a character that believes one way about the world, and then is shown something different, you have the chance for character development. A betrayal of a loved one, something supernatural occurring, a death of a loved one, etc could work for this or even something normal like being fired from a job suddenly. Even initially showing disbelief, anger or even refusal to accept it is great but eventually this should lead somewhere to some level of acceptance. For instance, in How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup’s dad utterly refuses to accept anything Hiccup has to say about Dragons. After finally witnessing things up close and personal, he finally comes to realize his son was right and Dragons are not horrible creatures set out to kill all humans.
Whatever you do, however, make sure that at the core, your character is still the same or doesn’t change suddenly for no reason. Wildly changing can also be just as bad as no Character Development at all and is a trope known as Character Derailment.
Do you write? If so, what ways do you go about character development?