Ellie and Savannah were the first characters to inhabit the Crossworlds universe. They formed out of a desire for a twin sister and lots of conversations with imaginary friends. When I realized they were going to be in a book, I put more thought into their character development. Thinking back on how the twins grew, I came up with three character building tips for you:
1. Don’t Oversimplify
If you’re looking for tips on character building, often you’ll find lists to fill out with character traits. If you’re uncertain, you might list potential traits and then feel you need to stick to them. For example, if you don’t know what your character’s “flaw” is, you might say they’re shy. Then, when you try to implement this in the story, you might discover it doesn’t quite work. It’s limiting. So, how do you fix this?
It’s okay to leave some of those slots blank, and ponder them for a while. It’s important to explore your character inside the story, and discover her as she discovers herself. Don’t slap a label on your character that you feel the need to “stick to.” People are complicated. A trait isn’t always good or bad. For example, a character who lies. On one hand, she isn’t trustworthy. On the other hand, she’s clever, and can talk her way out of trouble.
A great deal of who we are depends on who we’re with. When I first started writing, I found the easiest way to develop Ellie and Savannah was to contrast them against each other. It was important to me for my twins to be different in personality even though they’re identical in appearance. Next to quiet and thoughtful Savannah, Ellie seemed even more outspoken and impulsive. But the two character you’re comparing don’t have to be polar opposites of each other, it just helps to know how the two relate. This can be useful even if you don’t have two main characters. Think about how differently your main character acts around the various people in her life. How is she around her friends vs. a love interest vs. an authority figure? Does she have a hero she emulates? Comparing your characters can also help you identify if any are too similar to each other. You don't want repeats of the same people.
3. Allow Growth
Savannah learns from Ellie to stand up for herself when she needs to. Ellie learns from Savannah to think before acting and be more careful. Let your character grow throughout the book. Don’t be limited by the label you’ve put on her. One of my biggest peeves in reading is when I shy girl character takes abuse from a boy she likes, because 1) she likes him, and 2) she’s “too shy” to stand up for herself. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s incredibly satisfying to see the shy girl step up, and tell off the jerk. If you’ve decided your character is a shy girl because that’s relatable, you have the opportunity to give girls a relatable hero. I was the shy girl. It took a lot for me to learn to speak up when necessary.
If your character has a fear, present obstacles to help her overcome it. If she’s closed off and mean, readers want to see her become kinder and more open, but still keep her edge. Remember, growth doesn’t mean changing the core of who your character is. If you struggle with this, think of an obstacle you overcame. How did it change you? How much of your personality is the same?
Exercises and forms about character development certainly can be helpful. Personally,I much prefer to let character development emerge by playing inside the world of the story and getting to know my characters like friends. This is, for me, one of the most enjoyable parts of writing. Take your time, and have fun.