Strange title this time, huh? This post was inspired by a conversation I had when a friend of mine asked, “How do you develop your characters?”
As the discussion went on and the question become more specific, I started to delineate between the initial development process and developing a character while writing the actual stories. That’s when it struck me: it can be compared to online dating.
Now before you scoff at it and walk away, stick with me for a minute, I promise this will make sense.
When you are on an online dating website, what’s the first thing you see about a new match? Their online profile. Depending on the site, it is either a very short profile with a lot of pics, or a detailed profile.
This profile is supposed to have all of the basic facts about who this potential romantic interest is. It’s supposed to give you that ‘first impression’ of whether or not they might be a good match for you or not.
But are you really getting to know the person through their profile? Based on my experience, no, you’re not. Because in the profile, you’re only getting the very, very basics about them. You’re not seeing their soul, you’re not seeing how they interact with people, with you.
That’s why you talk with them for a little bit via whatever communication method the site provides, and then if it goes well, you end up meeting them for a date. And perhaps another date. And beyond.
THAT is when you actually start to get to know them, when you spend time with them, see how they act and react in various situations. The more time you actually spend with them, the better you get to know them, and the better you can predict their behavior (and for the purposes of dating, determine if you want to continue to date this person.)
Now apply all of those concepts to developing your characters. The more work you do up front on developing your character, the better. It’s like building a more complete profile on a dating website. What is your character’s history? What are their passions? What do they despise? What do they do when they aren’t working? Do they have any pets? Do they even like pets?
But no matter how complete you make your character’s profile, you’ll never get to know them unless you actually spend time with them. What does that mean?
Write with them. You can plan ahead, decide ahead of time that they will do some act, or something will happen to them, and you can even plan how they will react. But until you write them in those situations, write how they react, write how they feel, give them experiences, you’ll never truly know them.
In other worse, spend time with them to get to know them.
Write Stories for your Pre-Writing
If you’re going to write a novel, one suggestion I would make (but don’t always follow myself) is to go beyond just developing a ‘profile’ for your characters, but actually write a couple of short stories with them. Put them in unique situations. Challenge them. Let them react. And by doing so, get to know them a whole lot better before you write with them in a novel.
Not only are you going to get to know your characters better this way, but you’ll be creating backstory for them. Backstory that, even if you never reference in your novel, will create a more complete character. Trust me, your readers are going to notice.
This also does more than just allow you to get to know your own characters. Just like when dating, if you start to get to know this character and realize something is wrong…do something about it. In dating, that’s probably tell your date “this was nice, but I don’t think we’re compatible” and move on.
You can do this in writing, too. The character isn’t working out how you hoped he or she would? They aren’t advancing the story? Then don’t write them into the story. Superfluous characters are, well, superfluous.
But I challenge all of you: you can do something when writing characters that you can’t do to your dates: change them. Something about your character not working for your story? Change that something. Don’t know what it is? Figure it out – they are, after all, your characters. Make them into the characters they need to be for your story. In many cases, this means introducing flaws. Make them interesting. Make them unique. Make them worth falling in love with, or worth hating.
Disclaimer: do NOT attempt to ever change your date or your significant other. It only works in writing.
Additional disclaimer: please do not go online and create dating profiles for your characters. When they start getting matched with real people, you’re doing those people a disservice by creating false matches for them.
So what do you all think? Am I on to something here, or am I totally off my rocker? I mean, I already know that I’m crazy, but… ;)
Thanks for reading!