The composition of a character draws from many sources, especially the primary characters – protagonist and antagonist. To a lesser degree, the supporting characters also require some shaping.
Physical, Mental and Emotional Development
I have completed forms similar to an employment application, where I’ve been asked to record all types of personal data: date-of-birth, height, weight and eye colour; schools attended, including post-secondary; work history; love interests; residential addresses, and so on. I’ve also completed forms that reach into the psyche of my characters.
Needs, Beliefs and Personal Values
Those forms are helpful, but, for me, my character development is based more on what my character needs, his or her belief system and personal values, and how they relate to the world around them. During the course of writing a family saga, development of a character evolves. Writing over a long period of time gives an author time to adapt a character’s personality to the story line, allowing them to grow.
Character development also draws from other influences that writers don’t necessarily contemplate consciously. For example, when we write, we draw on our own experiences, emotions, and reactions; how we felt in a moment of fear, anticipation, anger, even love. We are, however, the first to deny that a scene was written from personal experience, especially if the scene is contrary to how others perceive us. Without personal experience, we might draw from the words of another writer, a film, or simply wondering.
We also consider our friends, family and acquaintances. We revisit their personality and physical traits, their hurts, their joys and we write them all. I read some time ago that, if a writer is in your midst you can expect that, at some point, a part of you will appear in a print. That is the truth of it!
Many people I know, and even some I don’t, might find themselves making a cameo appearance in my stories. Recently, I wrote a short story called “An Interview with Santa”. My inspiration came from a snowy-bearded gentleman who sat across from me on public transit. I whipped out my notebook and began writing! Simple as that. Three years later, I was looking for something on which to base a story for Christmas and I remembered the first line I wrote: “Santa sat beside me on the train…” I will share that story once it has been published.
Sum Total of Character Development
The development of a character is not a simple task, and a writer can spend a significant amount of time composing just one individual. In a writer’s mind, they are real individuals who live and breathe, work and play within the writer’s realm. When I speak of my characters, they are real to me, and sometimes my husband has no choice but to accept that they occupy space within my daily routine, at least until the story is finished. And even then, he’s not so sure I’ve left them behind.
Before a reader encounters a character, that character has been given flesh and breathe, faults, foibles, strengths and abilities. That is what makes a character memorable, and why a reader wants to share the story. That is why they are remembered as friend or foe. A memorable character will have more depth to them, because the writer took the time to give them life.