Character Development: General Thoughts
What makes your character into a hero? Thanks to all the superhero movies which have popped up in recent years, you might envision tights, a cape, an unshakeable character, unquestionable morals, and a strong sense of justice. They are above reproach, above the law, and basically take center stage in most of our childhood games. Who hasn’t played at being Superman, Thor, Spiderman, or someone similar? They’re people we emulate and strive to become despite the almost impossibility of the task.
Why is it impossible?
Because we have faults, quirks, sometimes even a dark side, if you will. We can’t fully relate to those heroes who save the day, rescue the damsel (and don’t even get me started on all the helpless dames out there) then go home, kick up their feet and sleep like babies. The world is safe once again. We don’t envision our heroes snoring or chewing with their mouths open. We don’t want to picture them with normal dilemmas, such as finding a pair of matching socks or running out of clean underwear.
Until lately that is. Our heroes are being poked, prodded, and examined under the microscopes. They’re suffering post traumatic syndrome, fighting a dark past, and arguing amongst each other while Hulk and Thor watch from their far off hiding places likely passing the popcorn and swearing eloquently as Mario once more takes a dive off the rainbow road. But you know what? Hard as it is to watch at times, people can now relate to these heroes. If they can rise above their situation and become something more, why can’t I?
This. This is what you need to understand while creating and developing your characters, both good and evil. Gods, there are something like four billion blogs, vlogs, websites, surveys, questionnaires, books, and so forth to help you get started on the journey of creating your soon-to-be multiple personalities. Too many for me to start naming them here. Just do a search or check out the forum at Nanowrimo.com for more links. Do research until your eyes bulge out of your head, but make sure you’re writing it all down. Only the Gods know what I’ve forgotten. If you don’t write it down it disappears into the void and becomes one with the stars.
And just so we’re clear, the stars are truly quite out of reach at the moment.
All this to say you need to consider what makes your character relatable. I won’t even say human, since I don’t deal with those bipedal bags of mostly water for very long. At least not right now. In the future, who knows? What makes your characters believable? I have a main character whose strong, confident, knows his job, and does it so well he nabbed a high ranking position. His downfall? Spiders. And crowds. He suffers from a bit of social anxiety. Now that’s not to say that every time he goes out he cringes at the thought of meeting people or hanging out with them and what not. No, this just means he’ll run his hand through his hair a bit more often, become awkward as hell, and maybe avoid social situations all together unless absolutely necessary. It means he has limited circle of close friends and people he truly trusts instead of a large entourage of casual acquaintances.
Your “bad guys” aren’t exempt from this rule either. But they’re bad you say! They just want everyone who stands in their way dead. They’re cold, beastly, slimy, and surrounded by neon green smoke, which of course means others should have clued in on their evil status a thousand years ago. I think the hardest thing for me to write was the antagonists. They have different motivations and a different way of looking at the world, and they aren’t necessarily wrong, are they? I’ve heard mention that the scariest villains are the ones who’s motive makes sense, ones people can relate to. Yes, they go about achieving their goals in a twisted manner, but really they just want to protect people/protect themselves. The amount of villains out there that are bad just because they are bad is staggering. What’s their motivation? Take over the world? Live forever? Why? Why does this matter so much to them? These are all worthy goals for a villain, but what brought them to pursuing this openly?
Is your antagonist devious and calculating? Is he/she ugly on the simple basis that they are considered the bad guys? Can one’s villain not be beautiful and misunderstood? (On the flip side, can your protagonist not be hideous or have some sort of flaw which might make them otherwise overlooked as a typical hero?) One of my villains has a love of the arts, specifically statuettes, and a passion for history. You’re bad guy doesn’t have to be all bad.
For example, I recently watched an episode of CSI:NY where a young boy thought to help his mother with the rent. A noble cause for one so young. Only in his limited experience this didn’t mean picking up a paper route or doing odd jobs for cash. No, this meant robbing a bank.
See, he’s not bad but he made a bad choice. Now that kid has to live with that choice, fictional though he is. It’s the same for your villain/protagonist.
So go out there and create character personalities you can talk about as if they are real. My imaginary friends are practically besties with my best friend, who is an angel for listening to me rant and rave about their goings-on for the last two years. Make sure they do stupid things or that their good deeds don’t always yield the desired results.
And for the love of the stars, write those damn ideas down!