Monday, January 9, 2012

CRAFT: Character Development

I've been reading a lot of great books lately on the craft of writing, and I've been working hard revising two very different manuscripts. So ... ideas for improvements keep bouncing around in my head.

Today, I'm thinking about character development:

"Every single character ... must change in the course of your story. The only characters who don't change are the bad guys. But the hero and his friends change a lot" (Snyder, SAVE THE CAT, p.134).

"One of the top three factors in great stories is a clear progression of character growth across the course of the story. Someone, somewhere in your story must change and grow ..." (Baboulene, THE STORY BOOK, p.136).

How do you accomplish this? Do you simply write your story, give it to a beta reader, and ask if the mission has been achieved? Or do you need to map it out precisely and make sure that there is ENOUGH growth for each character? And, what constitutes "enough" growth? What tools and techniques can you utilize to accomplish this goal?

Well, instead of writing a huge long post today, I've decided to cover these questions in a series of posts over the coming week.

But for today, do you agree with Snyder above when he says, "EVERY SINGLE character ... must change ..." ??? Really ??? Every single one ???


  1. Well, for me I usually outline and start with each main character and ask, "What "lie" does he/she believe about her/himself or life in general?"
    Usually this "lie" results from something that happened to them in the past (backstory).

  2. I agree that the main character absolutely must change. There must be a change in the way they see the world or view their place in it, or some other similar transformation. A plot shouldn't just be a bunch of connected incidents and actions but a vehicle for the character's growth as a person, IMO. Great topic!

  3. Yes, I do think people should change in some way in a story. It makes it more interesting. I also think bad people changing is true in life and interesting in books. I will never forget the shock I felt when Darth Vader changed for the good in Star Wars. To see he had good feelings inside made his character more real. Most bad people in movies and books are all bad, which isn't true about many people.

  4. I'd agree the main characters need to change. I guess it doesn't always have to be for the better though. And Save the Cat is a great book!

  5. I think saying that every single character must change is stretching it a bit.

    Some characters are just too minor (unless you count Private Cannon-Fodder's swift and unfortunate transition to ex-Private Cannon-Fodder), and sometimes a character's solid and unchanging nature is an essential feature of the story (did we ever see any character growth in Jeeves?)

    I also dispute that the bad guys don't change. Sometimes, their changes are the most interesting.

  6. I think so. But I'm not for mapping them all out to the point of pulling your hair out. The changes should come as natural reactions to your plot. You don't need huge descriptions of how they change, but if the main character's mom dies he should react to that. Chances are, he'll be changed.