Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending author Terry Persun‘s workshop on Character Development. Terry, whose recent novel, “Cathedral of Dreams” is a finalist in the ForeWard magazine Book of the Year Award, pays considerable attention to his characters and what motivates them along their journey. In his workshop, Terry moved beyond mere character profiling to character insight.
Here are my key takeaways from Terry’s workshop:
Understand the Nuances of a Character’s Childhood
Experiences in your character’s childhood affect the way they think and experience the present. Become familiar with a few essential childhood experiences that have shaped your character. Pay particular attention to the way the character responded to those childhood incidents. How did he or she respond when the textbooks fell into a puddle at school? Each character in your story will have different responses to the fallen textbooks.
Know Your Character’s Skills
What your character does professionally will affect how your character behaves. If your protagonist is an interior decorator by trade, he will have a keen eye for wall colors. If your character is a police officer, he’ll profile the people and situations in a room. Your character’s profession will affect the way they speak. If your police officer sounds like Ryan Seacrest, you have a problem. Your goal is reader believability. Allow your character’s profession to show in a handful of ways, and you’ll build trust with your reader.
Break Down Character Stereotypes
Putting your character in different situations will allow the reader to see different facets of your character’s personality. If your character is a sharp-tongued lawyer, break down that stereotype by showing him at home with his children. Characters must be multidimensional. Whether it’s coin-collecting or a child, even your antagonist must have something he or she loves.
Interview Each Character About Fellow Characters
You have a cast of characters, and each character interacts on some level with the other characters in the story. Sit down with a character and play psychologist. What does your protagonist find irresistible about his or her friend? Why does your character find her parents annoying? Why does your antagonist despise the protagonist? Maybe your antagonist thinks he or she is actually being loving toward the protagonist. Investigating your character’s feelings about fellow characters will allow for smoother interactions between characters and your character’s intentions will be clearer. Playing psychologist will help you understand your character’s mental pathway, motives, and actions.
What insights do you have about the development of characters? Share them below.
For information about more writer workshops in the Seattle area, visit pnwa.org.