Character Development Part 3

There are four things that readers learn when they read your book.

  • Who
  • What
  • Why
  • Why not

We’ve been working on the who part for a few weeks now with the goal of populating our novels with characters that feel like real people rather than cardboard throw-away cutouts. We’ve done character bios for each one, so we know our characters’ backgrounds. We know things like: they were born in Chino, California, but moved to Seattle when they were six because dad committed suicide. We know their idiosyncrasies; they always chew gum because they’ve been trying to quit smoking for thirteen years and even though they haven’t smoked a single cigarette, they are afraid of relapsing because they have an addictive personality. They type with one finger because they want to look cool, but the reality is they never had the patience to learn how to type properly. They are utterly afraid of public failure. Their biggest fear is being inadequate and so they usually try way too hard at everything, which puts most people off. We know their favorite food is watermelon and their favorite drink is coffee, black, thank you very much, because they don’t drink no stinkin’ silly adult-sippy-cup topped with two cups of whipped cream and caramel sprinkles. We know all that stuff. We know more about them than we anticipated when we started this project.  And because we know all of this information about our characters, we can think of them as actual people.

Then what?

Then comes the what part.

The what part is the goal. It’s your character’s goal. And every character should have their own goal.

But…but…yes, I hear you. You think your character doesn’t have a goal because…he’s the bad guy and his job is to be evil. For your book to be believable, i.e. a book which will allow your reader to suspend their disbelief (because they know it’s fiction) your bad guy will have to make sense, and so each character will need a goal that your reader can understand.

Think about it. Why does your character want to achieve their goal? What motivates them? It’s their inability or delay in achieving their goal that is the main conflict of your book.

Next time we will focus on what your character wants. Right now, we need to know who your characters are, and their backgrounds, to understand what they want. See? It all ties together.

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