This has been a great challenge for me since I embarked on writing my first story. Up until this point I have only written non-fiction and primarily for education. So when at last I developed the gumption to try to write the story that had been visiting my mind for roughly a decade I did not know exactly where to start with character development.
When I taught, one of the skills I addressed in every novel I read with my students was characterization. So I treated my story the same way. I began with a t-chart of negative and positive character traits of my main character and two sidekicks, just as I did with my students. However, with my students, they had to support each character trait with evidence from the story. I didn’t have evidence yet.
This wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I considered researching personality types. I came across a Myers Briggs Test. I enjoyed this site because it allowed me to take a very short test (I think four questions) and then it compiled the answers to determine which of the sixteen personality types my character would fall in. I took the test for each character (and of course myself too!).
Once I knew which personality type my main character and two sidekicks fell into I was able to access all kinds of information about these personality types. I figured that I was really getting to know these characters and admittedly, I was very pleased with myself.
Finally, I decided (with encouragement from my husband) enough researching, time to get writing. And you know what I discovered? Of course you do, because you are much wiser than I was. As I wrote, my characters’ personalities formed themselves.
Any time my character expresses emotion, I get to know him better.
When he is conversing with someone, I get to know him better.
Every decision he has to make, I get to know him better.
Every conflict he is involved in, I get to know him BEST. It is when the character is faced with a problem that his true character comes out.
I learned over this summer at The Writers Loft that the worst thing that can happen to your character MUST happen. That it is best to not delay reactions or conflict. The character must respond immediately, much against human nature to wait for a better time or avoid conflict. It is in these conflicts that our characters reveal themselves and we have to be willing to put them into the worst predicament appropriate for that scene.
Granted, my characters are far from developed. I still avoid conflict for my characters, just as I do for myself. But until I get comfortable with the conflict I will not know what my character is made of.
If character sketches work for you, more power to you. As it turns out, despite my need to plan everything, the character, in essence, creates himself. And every conflict and rewrite helps me to get to know him better.