Writers often spend a great deal of time developing their protagonists only to neglect their villains. However, a well-developed villain is just as important as the protagonist to a story’s success.
A villain who is too evil or not evil enough, a villain who is one-dimensional or a villain lacking clear motivation are some of the problems you might run into while trying to develop a character who will oppose your protagonist. A great villain can sometimes be the difference between a novel that is good and a novel that is great. Here are some questions you can ask yourself in creating that great villain.
Anonymous asked writing-questions-answered:
How does character development work with characters who have lived long lives and have already gone through many experiences? What are some ways to further develop them when they’re over 100 years old?
I think that no matter how old you are, no matter how wise and experienced, there is always going to be room for things to effect you so profoundly that it changes you somehow. Even someone who is over a hundred can learn to see things from a new perspective, change an opinion, confront a fear, or stand up for something they believe in. Also, new things pop-up in the world every day, whether it be some sort of new technology, a shocking world event, or just a new spin on something that’s been around for awhile. Things that younger generations may take for granted, like iPads, special effects in movies, and skyping—can be mind-blowing for someone who has been around since before telephones and cars were commonplace. So, you can develop the character by exposing them to things like this, which gives them the opportunity to talk about old experiences while comparing them to the new experiences, which can be quite profound for both the character and any younger characters they are sharing with.
Horrible fact of writing: you are going to know a lot more about your character than will ever be put on the page. This also drags writers down, because often they’re so exciting about their characters, that they want to share everything. Instead of conveying that excitement, it drags the story down, and loses the reader.
So, backstory. Backstory is essential. It is also a pain, figuring out what goes where. Your character worksheets are going to have some backstory, maybe a lot, so for this part, we’re going to focus on the essentials.
- Pick out the major events. That test your character failed in third grade is not going to impact them the same way their parents’ divorce did (unless the character connects the two). Pick out the really important things, whether or not your characters are aware of them. What caused a great internal change? What external issue brings them to the plot now? These things are going to be what your reader will need to know.
- Backstory Timeline: Your character didn’t spring to life the second their story starts on the page. Take that starting point and move backward: how did they get there? When did they move to _____ town, what did they get their degree in? This is going to be more mundane details than your major points, but they’re important too. You might stumble upon a great location, or a new plot idea you didn’t think of before. This can also be an ongoing list; you don’t have to go it in one go.
Both your main characters, supporting characters, and antagonists (we’ll get to them later) need backstory. Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t need it all right now, and some of it will probably change while plotting, but now’s a good time to get started.
Having a protagonist as a middle child could be an interesting idea because they’re both an older sibling and a younger sibling. They may know what it’s like to be taken care of and they may ALSO know what it’s like to take care of another sibling. They might sometimes try to stick out or feel inadequate because of an older sibling’s success of the attention a younger sibling gets. All these things, however, are not true for every middle child.
There’s a term called “the middle child syndrome” for middle children who lack proper attention or feel jealous of their siblings. This is often used in movies, television, and novels—even if it isn’t necessarily true. The older sibling is seen as reliable and confident and the younger sibling is “the baby” and can do no wrong. These are all stereotypes, but a lot of characters are written this way.
The middle child is often portrayed as the “rebel” or “black sheep” because they might not feel like they fit in. They might openly disobey their parents or do things that are not seen as responsible. In novels, the middle child has the potential of becoming witty or a “smart-ass” as a way to cope and stick out. They are often one extreme or another.
The truth is that most kids will act out if they’re not getting enough attention from their parents OR if they feel overshadowed by their siblings—it doesn’t have to be because they’re a middle child. An older sibling might act out when a younger sibling is born and a younger sibling might feel overshadowed by his older brother or sister. You can shape your characters to give them the experiences you think they should have (maybe they feel left out OR overshadowed by siblings), but remember these things aren’t necessarily true to real life.
Hey Writing Habits, do you have any tips or links for writing side characters? Keeping the little guys as interesting as the big ones, as it were?
Your side characters have their own backgrounds. Fleshing those out will help you a lot in figuring out what they can do and when. Even if you end up with thirty pages of notes that will never see the light of day - or more! - getting to know them will help you a lot in making them interesting.
Your side characters are not aware they are side characters. Everybody else is starring in their story. They’re not going to drop everything just to be there in time to provide a key plot point or helpful hint. They have to behave naturally, and within their own interests.
What we don’t know can be just as interesting as what we do. Having some mysteries remain about your side characters can make them just as memorable as the main ones. Why didn’t Shelly cry at her mom’s funeral? Why was the secretary willing to risk her job to help the detective? Hinting at their motives - or leaving characters wondering at them - can help make them more real.
That said, giving them motives is super important. Shortcuts and stock characters leave much to be desired. As a writer, you can do better than that. The girl who gets with the guy at the end is just that, a stock character. The girl who gets with the guy at the end because they really like each other or because of Some Other Reason just got more interesting.
Hope these help!
lunabeck said: Hello! I did try looking around, but all questions on character development tend to be about HOW to develop them. my problem is a bit different. because i know her development, and how she is at the end of the story and all that, I keep writing her like that in the beginning. so pretty much I’m having trouble writing her BEFORE the she changes cause i keep writing her like she already had everything happen to her. I’m sorry its confusing, thank you!!!
Thank you for your question, lunabeck!
I’d spend some time figuring out what changes will be made to this character over the course of the story and why these changes are made. Where along the plotline of the story does your character acquire some of these changes you’re talking about? Why do these changes occur? What was your character like before the changes?
Examples? You betcha!
So let’s say that your character (let’s call her Tara) feels a certain way about this guy Bert at the end of the story. She likes him. Cool. Did Tara always like Bert? Is it a worthy plot point to make her not like Bert at some time before the end of the story? If so, what changed her mind?
Perhaps Tara met Bert at the beginning of the story and they totally started off on the wrong foot. Maybe Bert insulted Tara’s friend. Maybe Bert had had a few too many Long Island Iced Teas and acted foolishly. Fair enough. It happens to the best of us. Over the course of the story, Tara has to grow to like Bert, though, right? Because at the end of the story, she likes him, and we know that going in. So what changes?
Bert could get a kitten. Everyone likes kittens. Then maybe Bert helps Tara move. That’s always endearing. Maybe Bert apologizes to Tara for insulting her friend, and Tara realizes that she’s been super hard on Bert for months over some tiny thing. Maybe this interaction puts Tara into an introspective mood, and she finally understands how judgemental she can be toward strangers because of her own fear of inadequacy. Then she and Bert move forward as equals in their friendship. Roll Credits.
The point is that Tara doesn’t always have to have liked Bert. It might actually be more interesting if they don’t start off as besties, you know? Tension between characters is conflict, and conflict drives stories. Maybe play around with what changing relationships might do for Tara’s character arc. If she likes Bert when she didn’t before, how has that changed her emotionally? How would such a change affect her reactions to events in the beginning of the story versus the end of the story?
Maybe Tara moonwalks her way through the story as a kind, generous person and an epic dancer. That’s fantastic (and definitely fun to have at parties), but it doesn’t have to be that way.
What if Tara starts off sort of dull and rude? And she can’t dance. Lame.
Basically, what if Beginning-of-the-Book Tara and End-of-the-Book Tara are exact opposites? How could you make that a thing?
What events would have to occur in the story to change Tara from rude and dull to kind and generous, from a non-dancer to an epic dancer?
Maybe she starts going to therapy to figure out how to transform her critical eye into a force for good instead of evil. Instead of valuing the short-lived high that comes from commenting on other people’s shortcomings, Tara could teach herself to use that critical eye to identify problems and her considerable intellect to work with others on creating solutions. Boom. Rudeness into kind generosity.
Now, a change like this could take the whole story to evolve properly. This isn’t a one-trip-to-the-therapist change; this is a life-altering choice Tara has to make. It needs space. It needs time.
What about the dancing, you ask? Well, have her take lessons. (That sort of takes care of the dullness, too. Everyone needs a hobby!) Maybe dance class is where she meets Bert!
(These are, of course, extreme examples. Most character arcs are slightly more nuanced than this.)
If you’ve already got a character that is, in your mind, a finished project, it’s worthwhile to spend some time slowly unbraiding that character. Where do they seem weakest in terms of personality? How can you exploit these flaws in the beginning of the story? What personal or external struggles would cause even a subtle change in their personality?
At the end of the story, Tara, your character, is still human. If, say, Tara went from being incredibly ungrateful to counting her blessings, it is very rarely so drastic a change. Those are the kind of changes you really only see in articles about character development because they make for the clearest examples. They seem forced, inhuman even. It is more likely that if Tara starts off the story being incredibly ungrateful, she will still struggle with being ungrateful at the end of the story, if only internally. After all, the only type of finished person is a dead person.
So if you have an end-of-the-book character in your mind and you’re trying to chart her journey, and maybe she has a habit of taking things for granted, or struggles with it a little, you can trace this character trait back to when it was at its worst and start there. You might even think about mapping out Tara’s development. Creating a map might help you visualize your character’s development vs. the story’s progression if that is where your trouble lies. It might help with timing and syncing up development with events in the story with each step of the character arc.
Essentially what you’re doing with character arcs is throwing rocks (story events) at a wall (the character) over a given period of time (the story). The rocks chip the paint. They crack the moulding. They dent the drywall. Eventually, if the rock is big enough or you throw enough little rocks at one spot on the wall, you’ll make a hole. At that point, the wall is changed forever. Even patching the hole won’t be perfect, and a patch can’t ever undo the fact that there was once a hole.
To reverse-engineer a character arc, figure out the chips and cracks and holes in the wall of your character, then find rocks that seem to match and decide how to throw them.
Thanks again for your question!
-C and Hannah (theroadpavedwithwords)
Anonymous said: Sorry to bother you, but I can’t get a useful answer out of search engines, and wasn’t really sure how to find it in your FAQ or Toolbox since it’s a bit of an odd and controversial topic. How can I make the reader love a character in a small amount of time? I want them to be sad and understand the other characters’ pain when the subject opts to be euthanized.
Hey there! Thanks for your question!
I don’t believe that we’ve written anything as of yet on creating a likeable character, but you might check out these posts from our fellow Tumblr writing help bloggers!
As you can see, quite a bit has been written on the subject. And that’s just from Tumblr!
People always assume that playing someone British is just learning the slang and how to speak correctly with the accent. Well, that isn’t entirely true.
Tip No. 1: How to sound British.
Of course you have to perfect how to sound British. Use these links to use the slang all the time.
Tip No. 2: Location, location, location.
They’re going to ask where you are from and you just can’t say Britain, shit face. What if they are from Britain itself? You need to have a “home location”. What city/town? What district did you live in? Where is it located? What is it near? What are the customs there? It may also be important to know important counties and cities. If you can’t locate London on a map, it will be fairly obvious that you are not British.
- How to live in Britain: Topics of The Basics, Law, Geography, Culture, Problems, Being Successful, Making a Difference, and Personal Life.
Tip No. 3: Wording and spelling is a very important factor.
The British change their wording and spelling a lot. Here is a British to American translator.
Tip No. 4: Know their hobbies: such as their television shows and what they do in their free time.Not all the shows we have here in America are watched in Britain. Here is a list of the most popular televison series in Britian. (It stays updated, because what’s the point of posting one that isn’t?)
Tip No. 5: Myths about the BritishWe Americans don’t go around eating burgers and holding shot guns, do we? There are always myths about races and countries.
In essence, any literary character is drawn from one or more archetypes. An archetype is basically the pattern for a character, associated with a trait or a concept. Archetypes are most easily recognized in genre fiction — science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller — but they are applicable to any fiction, whether of high or low literary aspiration. The key is to select one or more archetypes as just the first step in character building.
But there are many types of archetypes from various belief systems and other sources. Try, for example, associating a character with one of the figures from the Chinese zodiac — boar, dog, dragon, horse, goat, monkey, ox, rabbit, rat, rooster, snake, and tiger — each of which is endowed with a complex array of both positive and negative traits (which I’ll let you research for yourself). For that matter, what’s your character’s (Western) astrological sign? (You don’t have to believe in astrology or any other belief system to derive characters from it.)
Alternatively, draw on mythology, legends, fairy tales, or folklore, or existing literature, including Shakespearean characters, or on Tarot cards, for that matter. (The noncharacter cards can inspire you to develop the plot, too.)
Here are some classic archetypes, including some based on Jungian psychology, to get you started:
Note that there are often multiple subtypes. Heroes are especially variable: They can be loners, or collaborators, they can be willing, or unwilling, they can be comic, serious, or tragic, they can be cheerful, or cynical. Combinations of archetypes are easily achieved, too; a mentor can be a guardian, a hermit, a judge, a sage, a shaman, a trickster, or a wanderer as well, or two or more of the above.