Writing Tips: Character Development - By Madhuri Iyer
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Observe and observe very keenly. Author Madhuri Iyer feels a good observation is key to add life to the characters in a book.
When I was asked to offer some tips to aspiring and active writers, I wanted to make the pointers as useful as possible. So when my publisher suggested I focus on one aspect, like character development, I thought it was a great suggestion. Creating credible characters is one of the most challenging aspects of fiction writing.
I’m sure every writer has their own unique way to go about the process. First of all, your story will have a main character, the protagonist. The protagonist has friends, enemies, mentors, and so on. The enemies, or antagonists, are very important to the story, because they motivate your protagonist to behave or react in a certain way.
A novel could have one character, or many, depending on your story. But whenever a character is introduced, that person must come alive on your pages. How do you do that? First, you observe. You watch people. You stare! It’s amazing what you can pick up by simply observing a person.
For example, you’re travelling in a train
That girl in the yellow, with a satchel beside her, seated opposite you. Is she a student? She’s on her cell, texting, and smiling. She’s eating a samosa. She’s got a tattoo with some devnagiri writing on her arm — what does it say? What’s that nervous habit, where she keeps twirling her long tresses? Is she stressed out? This kind of attention to detail helps you build next character.
The more flesh-and-blood your characters are, the more your readers will engage. (Unless you’re writing about a ghost, then you’ll need a completely different set of rules!) Readers want to see, feel and touch the people they are reading about. They want to connect with the characters as if they are a part of their lives. A classic example is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Even after a century of their creation, we still feel for the Bennett family because we identify every character in the book — we know people like that in real life, even today!
Now I come to a really important point. No character can be all bad, or all good. You must develop your characters in shades of grey. If you create a perfect character — who’s handsome, charming, helpful, brilliant, and deferential to his old parents, he does not ring true. He’s too one-dimensional. The guy has to have flaws. Add those little chinks and kinks that make him human. So embellish the person with stuff like sartorial preferences, phobias, and personality traits, positive and negative, to create a well-rounded character.
If you’re a new writer the idea of creating these characters can be a bit daunting. So here’s an idea. Why not start off with a handy guide like sun signs? Imbue your character with all the qualities of a particular sun sign. That way, it becomes easy to etch him/her out. For instance, if you choose a Leo personality, your character will be outgoing, arrogant, a crowd-puller, and large-hearted. Then you further flesh out the character in the context of his/her interaction with friends and family.
People change according to the situation you put them in, but their core nature remains intact. Even when they react unexpectedly, or surprise the reader, their intrinsic personality does not change. So what does this mean? A person is basically shy and introverted, but that person suddenly become fierce if a loved one is hurt, or harmed. However, once the provocation passes, he/she reverts to their natural state.
Often, I’ve been asked if my characters came from real life. I’d say yes, and no. I like to pick up certain traits I observe in people around me, but I haven’t transplanted a real character as is. That would be too boring. The fun is creating that unique person who is going to come out of your head. A person who has emerged from your imagination!
So don’t restrict your creative juices. Dream up memorable characters, people your readers will connect with. Of course, they don’t always have to belong to the human race. Even if it’s a dog, you can infuse a personality into it! Some of the most lovable characters in the world are animals and aliens — a sure way to give your creativity a free run!
So enjoy the writing process, stretch your creative abilities to the limit. Good luck in all your endeavors.
And keep writing!
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