What exactly is “character development”? It’s just a fancy way of saying that – once we have chosen the characters for our story – it is now time to build them, to give them life and personality. It’s like starting a Lego village. You can’t just have the flat, green foundation and then say: “look, a village.” No, we have to add trees, and houses, and cars, and streets. It is the same with our characters.
Firstly, why is this even important? Can’t we just have Joe or Sally or Bobby walking around in our story and doing things without building onto them? Well, think about this:
When someone asks you what your favourite part in a book was, or in a movie or a series, we don’t say: “the part where the truck went off the cliff.” Rather, we say: “the part where Joe jumped from the truck before it went off the cliff.” We always remember the people, don’t we, in the story. In fact, there is a writing rule I have which says:
The best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event.
That’s why, when I write a story, I am careful to create characters that people will remember. And the best way for people to remember? We create characters that they relate to. This is a way of saying: “I could see something of myself in that character”.
Now, most people think to themselves: to develop a character must mean to describe them. But they would be wrong. The more you describe a character, the less your reader will “see” them. That sounds weird, but it isn’t. You see, the more I tell you HOW a character looks, the more I rob you of SEEING that character for yourself, in your own imagination. There is another writing rule I like which says:
Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.
We don’t get to know a person through how they look. We get to know a person through speaking to them. Talk, whether ugly or beautiful, tells you more about a person – and their personality- then how they look. Sometimes the people we think are the coolest turn out to be empty and idiotic – once we start talking to them. There is a saying which goes like this: light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until we hear them speak.
So what your character SAYS is more important than how your character LOOKS. Have them speak. Give them dialogue. Make your characters talk to each other.
In another lesson to come, I will go into HOW to do this. In the meantime, it is important that you understand WHY dialogue is more important than description. So go ahead and watch the video for this lesson. In it, I describe why I believe dialogue is so important, and I also give you two exercises to help you understand this.
And while you're at it, don't forget to pick up the eBook that accompanies the video lessons. In the eBook I go into each lesson, and provide some assignments to get those creative juices flowing.