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Fiction Writer's

Character Development

The challenge of fiction writing is to weave a believable story around believable characters. In order to do this you need to respect the integrity of your characters, forget yourself and focus on their thoughts and their feelings as honestly and as entirely as you can. You must let them live their lives. Your job is to record your observations with fairness and precision, not to manipulate or control your characters.

This is no small undertaking. Everyone has their own methods for achieving this.

For those who are wrestling with cardboard characters or characters that simply refuse to come alive, we've found two tools that will help. If they work for you, feel free to use them, but be sure to thank Michele Albert , whose pen name is Michelle Jerott

WORKSHEET: Character Arc/Hero's Journey
(Adapted from C. Vogler's "The Writer's Journey"
and J. Campbells' Hero "With A Thousand Faces")


This chart provides a road map that may help create real, believable  characters.  It is offered a GUIDELINE, not a RULE. If your characters don't measure up to your expectations, you might check their progress against the following chart which was adapted from Vogler's and Campbell's books.

Remember,  characters have to change and grow. In order to live, they need to experience both setbacks and improvements. Their growth process isn't easy or contrived any more than your own growth process. If you can't chart your character's development in roughly the same order as you see below when story is done, you may be missing a crucial step in character development.  Not to say this is a "rule" you have to follow, or that every step has to be encountered.  Books are different, writers are different.  But, overall,  If it helps you, great!  We all have our own systems, so what works well for one writer might not do a thing for another.

CHARACTER ARC
HERO'S JOURNEY
YOUR CHARACTER: __________
Limited awareness of a problem 
(Act I)
  Ordinary World 
 
 
Increased awareness
(Act I)  
Call to Adventure 
 
Reluctance to change
(Act I)  
Refusal   
 
Overcoming reluctance
(Act I)  
Meeting with the Mentor   
 
Committing to change (Act I)
Crossing the Threshold
 
Experimenting with first change
(Act II)sp;
Tests, Allies, Enemies 
 
 
Preparing for big change (Act II)
Approach to the Inmost Cave 
Consequences of the attempt (improvements and setbacks) (Act II)
Supreme Ordeal
Rededication to change
(Act II)
 
The Road Back 
 
 
A final attempt at big change
(Act III)
 
Resurrection 
 
 
Final mastery of the problem 
(Act III)
 
Return with the Elixer 
 

NOTES

Michele Albert writes as Michelle Jerott for Avon. Her first book, Absolute Trouble, was out in 9/98. Her next book, All Night Long, is a 10/99 release, to be followed by A Great Catch in September, 2000.


Of course, it makes sense to begin your writing on a solid footing. If you allow your character to become a real person BEFORE you begin his or her story, you may find that your writing will be much easier. This chart helps writers get a firm grasp on major characters. Happy writing!

CHARACTER CHART

Date this chart was completed:
Character's Full Name:
Reason or meaning of name:
Nickname: Reason:

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE:

Age:
How old does s/he appear?
Eye Color:
Glasses or contacts:
Weight:
Height:
Type of body/build:
Skin tone:
Skin type:
Shape of face:
Distinguishing Marks:
Predominant feature:
Looks like:
Is s/he healthy?
If not, why not:

FAVORITES:

Character's favorite color:
Music:
Food:
Literature:
Expressions:
Expletives:

HABITS:

Smokes: What? When and how much?
Drinks: What? When and how much?
Hobbies:

BACKGROUND:

Hometown:
Type of childhood:
First memory:
Most important childhood event that still affects him/her: Why?
Education:
Religion:
Finances:

FAMILY:

Mother:
Relationship with her:
Father:
Relationship with him:
Siblings: How many?
Birth order:
Relationship with each:
Children of siblings:

ATTITUDE

Most at ease when:
Ill at ease when:
Priorities:
Philosophy:
How s/he feels about self:
Past failure s/he would be embarrassed to have people know about: Why?
If granted one wish, what would it be? Why?

PERSONALITY:

Greatest source of strength in character's personality (whether s/he sees it as such or not):
Greatest source of weakness in character's personality (whether s/he sees it as such or not:
Character's soft spot: Is this soft spot obvious to others? If not, how does character hide it?
Biggest vulnerability:

TRAITS:

Optimist or pessimist: Why?
Introvert or extrovert: Why?
Drives and motivations:
Talents:
Extremely unskilled at:
Good characteristics:
Character flaws:
Mannerisms:
Peculiarities:
Biggest regret:
Minor regrets:
Biggest accomplishment:
Minor accomplishments:
Character's darkest secret:
Does anyone else know?
If yes, did character tell them?
If no, how did they find out?

SELF-PERCEPTION:

One word CHARACTER would use to describe self:
One paragraph description of how CHARACTER would describe self:
What does CHARACTER consider best physical characteristic?
What does CHARACTER consider worst physical characteristic?
Are these realistic assessments? If not, why not?
How CHARACTER thinks others perceive him/her:
What four things would CHARACTER most like to change about self? (#1 most important, #2 second most important, etc.)
1.
2.
3.
4.
Why?
If change #1 was made, would character be as happy as s/he thinks?
If not, why not?

INTERRELATION WITH OTHERS:

How does character relate to others?
How is s/he perceived by...Strangers?
Friends?
Wife/Husband/Lover?
Hero/Heroine?
How does character view hero/heroine?
First impression: Why?
What happens to change this perception?
What do family/friends like most about character?
What do family/friends like least about character?

GOALS:

Immediate goals:
Long range goals:
How does character plan to accomplish these goals?
How will other characters be affected?

PROBLEMS/CRISIS:

How character reacts in a crisis:
How character faces problems:
Kinds of problems character usually runs into:
How character reacts to NEW problems:
How character reacts to change:

GENERAL:

Favorite clothing: Why?
Least favorite clothing: Why?
Jewelry:
Other accessories:
Drives:
Where does character live?
Where does character want to live?
Spending habits (frugal, spendthrift, etc): Why?
What does s/he do too much of?
Too little of?
Most prized possession: Why?

UNCATAGORIZED:

Person character secretly admires: Why?
Person character was most influenced by: Why?
Most important person in character's life before story starts: Why?
How does character spend the week before the story starts?

Feel free to share this character chart with friends! My only request is that you keep it intact, with this notice included so any updates can be easily found. The URL where the Character Chart is kept can be found at http://www.eclectics.com/articles/character.html -- an offshoot of The Eclectic Writer (http://www.eclectics.com/writing/writing.html). ___________________


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