Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Character Development Tip I Learned from Divergent

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

Hello all, sorry I'm a day late. *winces* I spent the weekend at a friend's house to celebrate her birthday, and, of course, forgot to write a post beforehand.

I read Divergent by Veronica Roth last week, and watched the movie with my friend yesterday. While I must admit that I'm not unduly impressed by either, it did get me thinking. There were several very interesting aspects of the movie, and-- at least in the book--a good deal of character development. I felt that I actually knew the characters, though really, there wasn't a lot of "developing" that I could see. (Tris, to be honest, seemed rather flat for the majority of the story.)

I sat for a while and thought about it. What is it about these characters that make them feel more real than so many others in different stories?

Answer: We see their fears.

It's such a simple thing, really. What is your character afraid of? Four is afraid of four things: heights, small spaces, killing an innocent, and his father. Tris's list is a little more extensive, but to the same effect--we see what she's afraid of, and we see her.

After I'd finished ranting to my friend about how terribly the movie had ruined several of the characters, I pulled out a piece of paper and started making a few lists. (Because I love lists. I really do.) I grabbed a few of my nearest characters, and wrote down all of their fears.

(And I'm proud to say that one of them only has three fears. Take that, Four.)

Here's an exercise for all of you: Open up a Word document, or find a notebook and a pencil. Write your character's name at the top of the page, and then list everything they're afraid of. Every last thing. If you feel like going deeper, try to figure out why they're afraid of those things.

Was that hard? For an undeveloped character, it probably was. Even for a character you thought was developed before, it might have been a very difficult exercise. Fears are harder for us to give our characters. We might give them one or two random fears, like fear of spiders or claustrophobia, or maybe a deeper fear for those particularly messed up ones--fear of their abusive parent, or of being forced to hurt someone they love.

But you know what? Everyone's afraid of something.

Most everyone is afraid of several somethings, actually. I, for one, am afraid of scorpions, swimming in places I can't see the bottom of, heights, small spaces, being trapped, calling adults on the phone (yes, go ahead and laugh; I'm used to it), and losing one of my family members.

Does your character seem more real now that you know their fears? They should. Humans are fearful creatures; seeing someone with weaknesses similar to our own helps us bond with characters far faster than with a character who seems perfect.

So take your list, and figure out how to show those fears in your writing. Make your character fear, and make them human.

What are some of your character's fears? How do you show those fears in your writing?

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