Hey all! I’ve been wanting to revisit some of my older posts on this blog because, well, I’ve matured a lot in the years that I’ve been running this blog. The post we’re revisiting today is Writing Convincing Characters. I initially wrote the post in August of 2010, which is approximately three months after I graduated college. At this point in time, I was still really developing my character development process. And my writing process in general – though I strongly believe that a writing process is something that grows as you grow. It’s constantly growing and evolving.
Characters are one of my favorite things to think up for stories. I love discovering them and learning more about them, hearing their stories. It’s always been one of the aspects of writing that I enjoy the most. However, how I handle it is very different now than I did before.
Character Planning Sheets
This is something I still do. High school me didn’t do very much with them – basically just the character’s name and vague appearance and age. Everything else was kept up in my head, which wasn’t particularly effective. My writing at that time was hugely inconsistent, especially in how characters were acting. This is probably because I never wrote down a concrete personality for my characters. Oops.
Character name: Salem
In 2010, I started adding a bit more. This was post graduation with a degree in writing, so I must have learned something about developing my characters, right? So the character planning included the name, age, a bit more detailed hair and eye color, and a basic personality. This was a vastly better method. Now I had a skeleton personality in development and could better gauge how a character was going to react in certain situations.
Character name: Alice Delany
Hair: rich mahogany
Eyes: golden brown
Basic personality: cold and calculating, soft spot for animals, ruthless in her actions, gentle, intelligent to a fault.
Somewhere along the way, I decided that this wasn’t enough. Just knowing hair and eye color didn’t actually give me a good idea on how a character looked. And those basic personality details weren’t exactly fleshed out. I wanted to know my characters better. I wanted to be able to have a decent idea of how they’d react in the situations I put them in. Let’s just say that, perhaps, some characters didn’t exactly behave in the way that I wanted them to a few times. Now I’m rather detailed in everything.
26 years old
black hair, worn in a ponytail
Detailed Appearance: Zane is a tall, well-muscled man. His skin is darker in coloration with an almost golden/sunkissed quality to it. His hair is thick, almost coarse, and is long enough to brush his shoulders. His hair is perpetually pulled into a ponytail. It is rare for Zane to be seen with his hair down. There are tattoos and scars that zigzag across both his torso and his arms, very intricate, though with a variety of designs. If any have words, they are not in English, probably Latin? Eyes are the shade of grey of a particularly nasty thunderstorm.
Personality: Externally, Zane is rather stoic and no-nonsense. He doesn’t show and incredible amount of emotion to those he is not close with. He has a bit of resting bitch face going on. Internally, he is a very, deeply caring individual. Once you’ve earned his trust and friendship, you’re stuck with him. Once he starts showing emotion more, it becomes clear that he is pretty damn dorky.
So everything is a bit more detailed now. There’s a bit of wiggle room in the personality for growth – I actually haven’t written Zane yet! But once I get there, I’ll have an idea of how to do so.
Balance is Everything
I remember talking about the Spectrum of Good and Evil in the old post – but what that really boils down to is balance. Characters have strong points, characters have weak points – and they need to have both to be believable. You don’t want to have a character that is perfect in the sense that they do everything right, that they don’t struggle, that they don’t have flaws. A character that is on either side of the spectrum – either good or bad – is boring. The last thing you want to do is bore your reader, right?
What I think about most when writing a character nowadays is what are their strong points? What are their flaws? How does this affect them? How will this impact their story? Like with Zane in the example I used, his stoicism will make it difficult to connect with the relatively shy protagonist in their story. She’ll have trouble reading his emotions until she gets to know him better.
Characters change as other characters get to know them or as events continue to happen. Once you’ve figured out how your character functions on their own (how previous events have shaped them), you can start to figure out how they might react in the situations you have planned out in your story. They still might surprise you from time to time, but it should help some!
The big thing to remember is that for a character to be considered round (which is technically our goal, round characters are believable and convincing), they need to have some sort of change during the story. It might be a simple change, it might be a major change, but it needs to be there. For Aria it was being selfless versus selfish. For Celia it was learning to rely on others instead of doing everything herself. Sometimes you don’t know how they’re going to change until you get to the end of the manuscript for the first time – and that’s fine, that’s what revision is for.
I hope this made some semblance of sense. My process has just gotten more detailed since I started writing, I guess that’s just how I need things to be to function as a writer. Just remember, keep things balanced. Think about flaws and strengths. Happy writing!