Thursday, December 1, 2011

Having trouble developing characters in your story? Try this tip

I hit a stumbling block the other day as I was developing characters for my current WIP. As I started to flesh them out I began to realize something in my process that I hadn't noticed before. Maybe it was subconscious. Maybe it's because I lean toward a specific character type. I don't know why exactly but a light came on.

Most characters we create start out as a concept, in some form or another, and as we mold them with ideas and opinions and dialogue and all the other cultural nuances, they start to develop personalities, and start to make choices. I don't know about you, but I'll write a scene of dialogue for a character to familiarize myself with his or her voice. It helps to read it out loud too. :)

The other night I was crafting my WIP, and like I said, I stumbled onto something. There's no name for it. Just polarities, I suppose. I guess I could call it Four Square, but isn't that taken?

I digress...

Imagine a square split up into four quadrants. Quadrant I, or the upper right hand corner, is the character's Spirituality. To the left, in that upper corner, is the character's Leadership. Below that, in the lower left corner, is the character's Impulse (now opposite the character's Spirituality). And to the right, in that corner, is the character's Destiny (now opposite the character's Leadership). Draw a line between opposites. Cool, huh?

So what does all this have to do with a character in your story? It's just a reminder that whenever your character does something impulsive it pulls him away from his spirituality, and vice versa. The same is true of the character when he moves toward his destiny. He moves away from leadership. Because following one's destiny means following one's own path, not ahead of the path of others, although often a leader is made along the way... Aragorn, for example. It's also important to note that Spirituality and Destiny, share a side, as they face the outside world together. And, also, the same is true, as you move around the square. Spirituality + Leadership; Leadership + Impulse; Impulse + Destiny. See what I mean? You can start to see your character's struggles in these areas; your character's ability to cope or not cope.

Is your character not coping? Perhaps he's trying to lead his impulses. A lot of villains stay in this area if they never leave it. Remember, too, that this isn't some hard and fast categorization. It's just a tool to help you visualize how your character is moving through the story. It also doesn't mean that a character can't jump around between them in a single chapter. It can happen. This tool is just to give you some perspective on where the character might be in a conversation, or in his thoughts. If he's always spiritual, and moving toward his destiny, then he's far from his impulse and leadership. Also, a leader can be leading people toward destiny. But is it a safe voyage? That's all for you, er, the characters to decide.

Hope this helps. :)


  1. This is a nice observation, I never thought of it that way before.

  2. Posting it has helped me too because it's recorded somewhere--like a writer's diary. And I refer back to it from time to time... :^]