Character development can be a tricky animal. I’ve found myself wondering what makes a character real to me as a reader. With feedback on my own work, I discovered that my beta readers had plenty of differing opinions on the characters.
Someone reading a character is very much like building a relationship. There are characters that I hate, sometimes even the protagonist. There are some I love. Does this mean something? I don’t think it does. What matters is that I care enough to form a relationship and that they are real enough for me to have a definite opinion.
Is this a problem? I think it depends on how popular your character is but I don’t think this speaks to the growth and development of the fictional creature in question.
Today’s Feedback Decoder is going to be exploring the development of character and not necessarily how much the reader likes them unless that pertains to how believable the characters are. In the end, this is the biggest concern for me as a writer.
If you would like to look at my last Feedback Decoder on Clarity, click here. In this one I cover character and their interactions along with general elements of a story.
I don’t think the character would do that…
Why did this huge thing happen to the character?
Sometimes, I don’t feel like I can connect to this character at all…
I touched on character believability before but wanted to hit on it again because exploring this part of a story, to me, is the most important thing to focus on. If you can’t connect or believe the character’s journey, more likely than not people will not believe your character is developed enough or real.
A good way to tackle this issue would be to have your character go through a variety of emotions, have some flaws, have opinions and ideologies, do things that would make the reader sympathetic, etc.Think about how they became who they are. Think about those resounding things that echo in life. These are the types of things people love.
So, is this a big deal?
The character could easily solve this problem…
The answer is obvious… why doesn’t he do this?
Sometimes, the flaws writers envision for their characters don’t come off very well. I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been confused by a character’s actions. Especially if they seem particularly smart or have solved harder issues in the past. It comes off like the writer just got lazy.
If there is a dissonance in the character and people don’t understand why they won’t choose a more obvious solution, make sure to address it and reinforce it. People tend to do this in real life.
They didn’t seem to have a problem with this until this far in…
I found the inner world of the character boring…
Do they ever think about anything else…
Sometimes a character that has a lot of his thoughts showcased can ping-pong between two trains. (I know it’s a mixed metaphor but I liked it!) This can get redundant. If a character revisits something make sure it’s a new conclusion or a road block of some kind that’s preventing them from progressing. Show a struggle or an epiphany maybe. Variety doesn’t just have to be here are a million opinions… it can be, “I finally understand this…” or “I refuse to accept this because…”
Tragedies and Trauma
The character bounced back from that injury too quickly…
Do any of the characters care that the supporting character died?
The character’s reaction to this thing was so melodramatic it annoyed me…
Too little and too much can sum up these issues. How do you know where to draw the line? How much time is enough time? This is when resolution comes in, questions like these aren’t easy to answer.
If you are unfamiliar with the situation, I would recommend talking to people that have gone through the trauma. I’ve never had issue getting people’s feelings and thoughts on these subjects. It seems to help people talk about it and it helps your book to hear it. There are forums online for just about anything in this category. (Just about)
If it is too melodramatic decide if it’s right for your character. If it goes on too long figure out why and if it needs to. Consider having other stuff go on during the crisis to give the reader variety.
Happiness and Contentment
The characters seem two-dimensional when they’re happy…
I just wanted to hit them, they are way too perky…
I’m getting bored with this lull where everyone is content…
Writing happiness is hard, people are always waiting for conflict. There are many types of conflict though and things, even if they are idyllic, have issues. Think about what kind of issues would be in this situation or how long the characters need to be shown as happy. It may be the happy moment goes on for too long. It may be the readers don’t understand where there’s a story because things are taking too long to happen. It may be that you just need a bit more conflict in their lives.
I feel like the character did a 180 out of nowhere…
How did the character jump to this conclusion?
I don’t believe the direction this character grew in…
This one is a bit more difficult. There will almost always be people that don’t like the direction your character has gone in… I would listen to this piece of advice only if it’s overwhelming. If some of the examples point to a sudden change with no explanation, that’s when it should be addressed. But again, this one is tricky and I think it’s up to the writer’s discretion more than anything.
I have said this before during beta reading but I still think this is the writer’s choice. The only exception I can think of at the moment is if multiple people tell you it’s hard to follow.
Some Key Words for More Character Development:
couldn’t connect, don’t care, why this, too quickly, two-dimensional, undefined, jumped to, unbelievable, melodramatic, boring, who is this, etc.
It’s important, sometimes, to take a step back and think about how a character is evolving. This element of story telling is vital and if the reader doesn’t care about your character one way or the other… it’s a problem. Identifying those moments when you just need more character development can help you bring the reader and the characters closer together.
Having trouble figuring out how to develop a character? I have a ton of blog posts on this subject as well:
If you want to look at more of my crazy ideas on the topic visit my archives!