Character development for a short story, character development for a novel, character development for game – they’re all different and yet they all share valuable qualities. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, since over at my short fiction blog, Sarah aka Legion, I chronicle the stories of several very different characters all at once. Some of these characters are from various short stories, others are bit characters in various books and then there’s the characters I enjoy playing as in open ended moddable RPG’s.
Lets start off with the book characters. I usually start off with a concept, in the context of a larger story and an ideal of what I want the character to be. Of course they tend to have different ideas and over the course of writing the novel their true personalities become more and more apparent. For example take Leo in “The Uncertainty of Death.” Originally Leo was going to be a breathtakingly gorgeous romantic foil, a rock that my main character could always depend on. Someone so loving that they could even love Death itself. Needless to say – Leo had other ideas. Turns out Leo is a little bullheaded, quick to place blame on the blameless and really rather annoying in his stubbornness. A point that both the characters in the book as well as the readers picked up on really clearly.
Short story characters are another thing entirely. Usually when I sit down to write a short piece of fiction I’ve got very little idea of anything at all, except for a vague sense of the story pressing on the space behind my eyes. The most time I spend developing these characters before hand is – picking a name and even then sometimes I don’t waste too much time on that. Clara, the character in one of my darkest stories really drove the story all on her lonesome. She told me her name and only let me so far into her head at any one time (a fact for which I remain absurdly grateful, her head wasn’t a happy place) and as we explored her tale we learned a bit more about her. Not nearly all, in short fiction there rarely seems to be enough time to learn absolutely everything about a character and no room to put it all down on paper even if you do.
RPG characters are the easiest and the hardest. Since the world they live and grow in is already set by someone else it’s easier to figure out absolutely every aspect of their personality from the get go. Take Raw Angelus for example (also known as the mage formally known as Ma’doc) I spent days picking his name, crafting his face and carefully choosing his introduction into the game world. In the game world, Ma’doc IS the story. Players of the game already know the game’s plot and subplots but they don’t know this particular skinless philanthropist at all. Making him a part of the story of the game yet much more than the story of the world is the whole goal. These types of deep and intriguing characters breath new life into a game I’ve already played a thousand times (or in the case of Oblivion, a game I never really liked all that much.)
Now what’s similar about all three types of characters? They grow, change and sometimes throw you for a loop and it’s your job as their writer to listen and let them. These bits of rebellion in your characters is what will help drive the story and give it an element of truth beyond your contrivance. Sometimes it leads to great things (the way Aedan seems to have taken to Mitei in “The Uncertainty of Death”) sometimes it’ll lead you to places you don’t exactly know what to do with (when Void revealed herself to have a love of pink clothing for example) but I believe firmly in the power of creating a good character and letting that character remain true to themselves.
When you try and force a character to do something that’s entirely out of character to stay with the plot points you’ve got in your head, the story will suffer. Never let the story suffer. Never stifle your characters growth. Even if you start out with just a kernel of an idea listen carefully and let them tell you who they really are deep deep within.
One more thing, never start out with “this character is badass” alone always remember to ask them why, why are they so awesome? The answer should surprise you.