The Psychology of Character Development
Since psychology is a comfort zone for me, it seems logical to blog about the psychology of character development. Have you ever wondered why some fictional characters feel so real it seems you could easily know them, while others feel wooden and contrived? Or worse, when an author builds a character who feels real up until they suddenly don't because of some event that simply jars your sensibilities; and you toss the book aside feeling cheated. Or, when you get partway through a book and all the characters feel alike? Or, they're two dimensional and it's difficult to understand why they're doing what they are. And you find yourself paging backwards to see if you missed something. Of course that's much harder to do with e-readers.
I'm sure all authors address character development a bit differently. Truth be told, I wish I could because the way my characters come to life is intrusive. Once "born", they run about in my head like little mad things. If I try to make them do something they don't like, they let me know about it in no uncertain terms. That's why I'm an "organic" writer. I've tried outlining my material and found it to be a waste of time when my protagonist simply thumbs her nose at me if I push her in a direction she doesn't want to go. Patiently explaining about the plot has proven meaningless. Besides, people think I've gone bonkers when they see me having conversations with myself!
Before I started writing fiction, I didn't understand this at all. Years ago when I read an interview by Diana Gabaldon when she complained about her protag, Clare Randall, simply refusing to cooperate, I just rolled my eyes. Now I understand perfectly. Apologies, Diana!
I suppose most of my books begin in my head with a protagonist. Once I have the protag, I need to figure out which setting would work best for them. Is it modern day America? Or do they live in a high fantasy world, or a science fiction one? They usually let me know right away if I've gotten it wrong. If I’m going for high fantasy where I need to do extensive world-building, I usually try to have at least some of that mapped out first. Maybe it’s a built-in deficit, but I find I cannot build both worlds and characters at the same time. The credibility of my story suffers if I try.
Characters are just like us--except they're larger than life. What that means is, while you and I might think about an unusual act of heroism, my characters will actually do it. Oh, they'll be plenty scared; but they'll mow right ahead in spite of it. When you think about it, a working definition of courage or heroism is action in the face of fear. If I have a character in a situation that would scare me, of course it scares them too. Unless the character is a sociopath. They aren't particularly sensitive to the feelings that plague the rest of us. Things like compassion, fear, honor, etc. Sociopaths manipulate others and are able to do so without much in the way of emotional fallout . . . at least to themselves. Everyone around them suffers terribly.
So long as we're on the topic of sociopaths, the very best books have well-drawn, three dimensional antagonists as well as strong protags. Without digging too terribly deeply, I can generally find something in any antagonist to at least try to link to a reader's sensibilities. Humans usually have mixed feelings about lots of things. It's important for characters to be able to see things from more than one point of view as well. That's one of the tools an author has to make characters feel believable.
While it’s fun to go to the movies and watch superheroes mow through one catastrophe after the next, guns blazing, readers want fictional characters they can relate to. From a reader perspective, which characters work best for you? Who have some of your favorites been and why?
The first character I ever fell in love with was Edward from Twilight, I was immediately hooked. I'm more interested in male characters because I don't know how their minds work. I know exactly how females work; emotional, needy, always needs rescuing (most of the time). I enjoy reading female characters that are badass and can take care of themselves like Clary from TMI City of Bones and Kat from the Lux series.My favorite male characters at the moment are Jace from TMI, Torin St. James from Runes by Ednah Walters and Deamon from the Lux series Jenny L. Armentrout. I feel like both these characters and the books have this addictive quality to them that I can't get enough of. These men are witty, dangerous, and definitely hot. They're also a little self absorbed but we forgive them for that.
Thanks Ann for a great excerpt post, I'm always interested to know what is in you author's minds.