I have always defined fiction as interesting people doing interesting things. This brings together the two great elements of story crafting, character development and plot development. Between the two I have always found character development to be the most difficult and the most rewarding. I have done many things to add layers to my characters. I have given then all the Briggs-Myers Personality Exam and I have given them associated mental disorders. I have divided them by the anneagramic personalities and by the major segments of types of dreams. But from my experience, the secret to tremendous character development is to explore the relationships between my characters.
Readers Relate To Relationships
Let’s face it, no man is an island. We all have relationships with other people, both those close to us and those on the fringe of our associations. These relationships can be good or bad, but we all have them. So when we read of a character who struggles with a relationship with someone, we can put ourselves in their shoes. Likewise, when boy meets girl and boy agonizes over how to get her to notice him, we all shake our head and empathize along.
Readers want to relate to characters, but readers will relate to relationships because they are so universal. The more prickliness you put in the relationship between any two characters, the more readers are invested because they want everything to work out well. The more you conceal but let you readers know that something is concealed the more they will read on to see what you’ve got hidden on the next page for them.
“Into Me I See”
I once heard a relationship expert define intimacy as “into me I see.” In other words, the level of intimacy between any two people shows us more about those two people than we would have known about them singularly and without the relationship. Think of your own life. How do you relate to your spouse or your parent? The level and type of intimacy a man has with his wife or his father shows us more about him than we could have known of if there never were a reference to these other people.
If this is true for you and me, then it’s true for our readers. Likewise, it will follow with all of our characters. When you demonstrate relationships that are rich and complex, so becomes our understanding of these people. If I wish to describe interesting people doing interesting things, that means some people will work together or sometimes other characters will try to undermine certain characters. The bonds between all of these people are demonstrative as to who they really are. You can give wonderful personalities to your characters and make them as unique and individual as possible. But when you show how all these people get along, you have found the hidden treasure of more interesting characters, which cannot help but make for better stories.
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And one more thing: Merry Christmas!