Character Development: Before and After

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category:


I know many of you were looking for the rest of the Epic Character Questionnaire, but I'm me. My muse was pushing me to continue on with my idea about character development and such, so I edited the original post to contain the entire list. You can read the whole thing here.

Now, on to the point of this post.

Characters need to grow in a story. They start off one way, believing certain things, feeling a certain way, then through the events of the story they change and grow. Thus is life. However, in writing there needs to be a balance. The characters can't grow or change too fast, it needs to be realistic, not dramatic, and enough detail needs to be there to SHOW the changes.

I was talking to a friend of mine just a few days ago, talking about character interviews. He said it would be fun to have the character answer the questions at the beginning of the story and then again at the end.

Sounds like a lot of work doesn't it?

But think of the work you could save! Okay, you are prepping your novel, character sketch, plot sketch, setting sketch, notes, pictures, the whole shebang. Your character sketch could be expanded into two parts - before and after. Then you can look at them side by side and figure out the best way to get your character from the Before to the After.

If you character starts off as a coward but then at the end he's a brave warrior type - how would he get there? This could really beef up or change your plot sketch as you try to think of realistic ways that the change could occur.

Now, normally I write on the fly but I thought this was a really interesting way to look at your characters. A before and after, see how they change. I tried a mini version of this with one of my characters just the other day and the results were astounding! He goes from believe that duty and honor come first before anything else to believing that following your heart is more important. That may not seem like a huge thing, but in the context of the story, it's major. Plus his personality just normally would not allow such a thing. So, my task now is to figure out the best way to get him to grow from here to there.

Again, I stress the "must be realistic" part. It's rare to never that a person wakes up after one tragic event and completely changes their outlook on life. It takes a lot of different tiny things before the change happens. Now, before you freak out - yes there are few exceptions to that rule. But again, realistic. An assassin would not suffer too badly from shock at seeing a dead body, even if that body was someone they were close to. But a little girl at the age of say 8? Definitely would have a major impact on the rest of her life in an instant. Tragedy takes on many forms and it can change a person drastically, but it usually takes something horribly gruesome or psychologically traumatizing to change a person in a single instant.

That ties in with time too. A character can't change too fast. Think of the tension that could be missing if they changed too quickly? Example of the character I mentioned before. His sense of duty keeps him from being with the woman he truly loves. If he changed too quickly and followed his heart, the plot would fall to pieces as all that tension between the two characters would be gone.

SHOWING this change is harder sometimes than to just TELL it. It's not just about what they are thinking or feeling either. It's what they doing. If they are scared, then show it. Pale face, wide eyes, trembling hands, knocking knees. Don't just say "She was scared out of her mind." Of course thoughts and feelings are huge too. When their life if threatened, are they thinking about things they regret in their life? That they are too young to die? Or are they ready for the end? Why or why not? You could add three or four whole paragraphs minimum after the line "A knife was placed to her throat." By just talking about what she's doing and thinking to SHOW the emotion that she's scared.

I think I'm going to sit down this week with all of my characters and do a before and after thing, even for the ones that are already written. They might say something that I didn't see before!

Again, if you want to see the Epic Character Questionnaire, I posted the entire 253-question list here.

****Don't forget the "Body Language Blogfest" April 24th. Sign up now!****

5 Responses to "Character Development: Before and After"

Dawn Embers Says :
April 5, 2010 at 5:11 AM

Very interesting. For the most part I let the development happen without much focus, at least for the first draft. It would be interesting to do the interview at different stages. My character, Noah, for example, goes through many different changes within 4 books. And the Ephram series, starts out when he is only 14/15 so he would change a lot over the years. hmm I might consider doing the whole character interview at different stages thing. Sounds like a good idea.

Ann Elle Altman Says :
April 5, 2010 at 9:43 AM

Thank you so much for the list. I will go and print it out. Also, I like what you said about character development. I'm writing a story right now where my main character has to do a lot of emotional changing.

Iapetus999 Says :
April 5, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Interesting post.

The only part I wonder at is where you say a coward changes into a brave warrior. I would posit that a coward can't change into a brave warrior, but he can certainly learn to act like one. Maybe he overcomes his initial fears, but they are replaced with new fears that leave him no choice but to act the Hero. He learns to fear not acting (the cowardly way) much more than acting (the hero's way). But deep inside he's still deeply afraid, and it would be terrible to take that away from him.
My point is that characters don't reaaaally change, they just make better choices, or at least they learn the consequences of certain choices better than before.

Harley D. Palmer Says :
April 5, 2010 at 8:09 PM

@Dawn I do that do mostly Dawn. However this workshop I am in is allowing me to see how difficult the rewrite is afterwards. One of my novels as you have read before, I've been working on for 5 years! I can only imagine how much easier it would have been to have planned it out before hand - even if only a little bit more.

@Ann I hope that epic questionnaire helps you! It is a bit long and I'm sure no one would use the entire thing. not all the questions apply to every type of character, but it definately covers all the bases!

@Andrew That is definately a better way to say that - and keep it realistic. You're right, in all respects. Even with my example of the character following his duty over his heart. He does not necessarily change himself, but he figures out that the consequences of not following his heart are much worse than not following his duty. Thanks for the great input!

Dawn Embers Says :
April 6, 2010 at 3:55 AM

I think that some characters are more capable of change then others. The reason I say this is because I know I'm different than I was at age 16. My characters that start off in YA are going to change as they grow up. Sure, some things will be the same but others will be very different. I guess, what I'm talking about is development. Not a total change per say, but they grow and things affect how the view the world. That development is what should happen in a story, for the most part.

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