What Did You Learn?

June 19, 2011

General Writing: Character Development

I have read hundreds of manuscripts by now and one of the big reasons why they get rejected is that their characters lack personalities and development. There are a lot of ways to work on this, but sometimes the characters in your book are lacking individuality is because you have included so many characters that you don’t have enough time to spend on them all. If you write in the scenes needed to add more characterization, the book will become much too lone.

One suggestion is to cut some of your lesser characters (perhaps condensing a few characters or deleting some of the non-essential ones entirely). By doing this, you make space for your main characters and can add in scenes that will help show who your characters are and what sets them apart from other people.

But how do you side who stays and who goes? Identify your main story (A story), secondary story (B story), etc. How do all of your characters fit in? If they don’t play an important role in the story–cut them. If they play a role that someone more important can play–cut them. Even if you love the character, save them for another book.

You won’t be sorry to have the extra space. Add in scenes where your characters must make choices (stand up to someone or avoid confrontation, apply for something or let an opportunity slip by, give up or keep trying, etc) to show how they behave in different situations. You can show their growth by having a similar situation arise later where they make a different choice.

Of course, this isn’t the only way to develop your characters, but if you find your book is overstuffed and your characters are underdeveloped, this is an easy solution that you might want to consider. (A word of warning though: should you cut a character, make sure you fully remove them from the manuscript. It would be awfully confusing if suddenly in the middle of a scene, someone who has never been mentioned speaks and then suddenly disappears again.)

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