Character Development: What to do with those traits…

Please keep in mind that the following blog entry is, like all of my writing tips, purely based on individual experience.  This is just one technique that works for me, in a field where there are many ways to accomplish the same task.  I do not claim to be an expert in any writing field.

Remember those three circles from a previous blog post on character development – physical, mental, and ambition, as well as the overlapping confidence, dedication, and assertion?

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Take one of, or part of, those circles out.  Let’s say, for example, Terry’s cousin unexpectedly dies in a horrific accident.  Terry permanently loses not only one of his key mental traits, but those traits also bleed into his dedication and confidence.  How does he react?  What does he do next?  Why does he behave in those ways?

A character’s development occurs when one his traits are stressed or destroyed.  Development can occur either gradually or suddenly, depending on the threat and which trait is stressed.  (I would like to clarify that a ‘stress’ does not necessarily have to be a bad event – just one that puts your character ‘on the spot’ in some way.)

One way using the Venn diagram works is that it can help identify which developments can stretch over the course of the novel, and which ones need immediate attention.  Also, character development doesn’t necessarily have to be a factor of just one character’s traits.  Characters develop at different rates and for different reasons.  Again, using our character as an example, having Terry’s cousin die impacts him immediately, but it’s doubtful that his mom will change her tune about him becoming a star athlete because of the event, even if she is also impacted by her nephew’s death.  This technique helps not only develop your characters, but ensures that tension and conflict – the meat of the story – remain.

For fun, I’ve done a few extra diagrams using this technique, mainly to demonstrate how easy this is to use and work:

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In this scenario, our main protagonist, Lori, can be developed in several ways for a romance novel, starting with a reason for her moving (perhaps her workplace went out of business).  Does she take an opportunity when, say, there’s a good location open for a cheap price for her business (immediate stress)?  If she does, is her teacher impressed with her sudden decision, or does he/she think it unwise to do so before Lori finishes her classes?  How do her twins inspire her creativity – through positive means (sewing class), less savory techniques (vandalism), or both?  To what lengths will she go to ensure her own success, compared to impressing her teacher, compared ensuring her children have bright futures?

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I decided to focus on an antagonist here, specifically for a sci-fi type story.  Now most stories don’t use the antagonist as the main PoV, but it’s still helpful to identify what your protagonists can manipulate as threats against the antagonist, or what the antagonist has at his disposal to use as threats against your protagonists.  Is there a way to cut off Trona’s mental communication with his drone fleet?  Does he eventually see the error of his ways, or is his obsession with religion too strong?  What was his history before he gained control of the drone fleet?  (The history of antagonists is often the key to defeating them.)

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Last, let’s work on multiple characters for the same story.  These are two college kids who will meet for the first time in a convenience store while it is being robbed (immediate stress).  With this, you can see how stress tends to effect more than one character.  Juan, given his upbringing, may not know how to react in this situation while Henry sees it as another thrill, another day to prove he wants to live.  A stress such as this brings these two characters together.  Knowing that both survive and will discuss the situation, they may explain why they entered the store in the first place and then touch upon other convening interests – namely, Juan’s aspiration to be an engineer and Henry’s love of anything ‘extreme’.

You’ll notice that in this case, I did not mention Henry in Juan’s diagram, or Juan in Henry’s.  This is because, going into the novel, they don’t know each other yet.  Meeting each other is instead a key part of their development when they are both threatened at a convenient store.

 

Remember:

– Traits are what you, as the author, give your character prior to writing the story.  Using the technique I mentioned sets up your character for physical, mental, and ambitious capacities, which are in turned linked to their confidence, dedication, and assertion.

– Development is often linked to conflict or tension, which arises when stress is presented to their physical, mental, and ambitious traits. Stress can be immediate or gradual, lasting or not, past, present, and future, beneficial or disadvantageous.  Stress can affect the entirety of the character (death), or only certain traits.

– Anything can be changed and built upon.  By no means are these diagrams permanent, but simply as a technique to get your characters started and keep them moving during tension, and conflict.

– Last, while the circles can be made larger or smaller, if you find yourself filling up these circles very quickly you may be divulging into details that aren’t relevant to the story.

 

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