Character Development Part 1
You may have one of the greatest stories ever told, but in order to tell it well you need believable and relatable characters. Your audience wants to become best friends with your hero; they want to hate the villain. Without that, they are less likely to become entangled within your tale, and they are less likely to fall in love with the unfolding drama. It’s unlikely that they’ll care, and if they don’t care they won’t finish your story.
Your characters are the main drivers of the plot, and in order to get the most out of them they should be like real people, they should all have history. Your protagonist didn’t just materialise out of thin air, unless your story is a sci-fi and they just did, but even then they have history. Where did they come from, why are they here, who are they looking for, what led them to this place, when did they discover this power, how did they learn to control it?
Who, what, where, why, when, and how? Or Five W’s and One H.
By answering all these questions, you will have just created a character history, and this adds to making your character believable. If they materialise out of thin air, we’ll know because they will be empty, uninteresting. We need to know who they are so we can make a connection, a bond ; that is how we can empathise with their frustrations as they face the obstacles in the story arc.
The example I’ve just given, shows us the questions that our audience will be asking of that particular instance in the story. But they will have more questions, lots more, and most of these will need to be answered. Of course, these immediate questions should not be answered straight away. You want to keep the suspense, you want to keep them guessing, and you will want to drip feed these answers at the appropriate time.
There are however lots more questions that they won’t be asking, but that we need to ask ourselves in order to get a rounder picture of our star; and with this bigger picture, we can create a more believable character.
The easiest way to create a character is to base them on somebody you know well. What would my best friend do in this situation? How far would my mum go to save the planet? When will dad finally get off the couch and walk the dogs? Of course names and places will have to be changed in order to protect the innocent.
In order to create a character, firstly we should jot down a profile on a character sheet. Let’s start with the basics. Name, (nicknames), age, sex/gender, physical appearance (height, weight, hair and eye colour etc), and any distinguishing marks such as scars, tattoos or piercings. We should really be getting a mental image of this person.
Next we should jot down the family profile. Who are their parents, their siblings if any, are they married? If so to whom, do they have children? Pets? Who are their best friends, and their enemies. Get a clear picture of their immediate surroundings and social structure.
Next let’s look at homelife. Do they live with their parents, or have they moved into a rented flat. Have they brought their own home, or are they on the streets living hand to mouth.
What is their professional life like? Are they a high powered judge or a barista in the local coffee shop? How much do they earn? To what extent are they educated? Did they drop out of high school, or did the go on to university? Work and education is a big factor on where your protagonist will find themselves in society. It’s highly unlikely that the high school dropout will be living in an apartment in New York at 135 West 52nd street, and dining on teriyaki salmon next door at Ocean Prime, before going to see Miss Saigon at the Broadway Theatre.
You should now be getting an idea of how we put together the character’s physical attributes, and this will give us plenty of information to draw upon, when putting that person in certain situations. This is what I call base level character development, and I would use this for all characters in any story arc, be it our hero and their family and friends, the villain and his “Igor”, or many of the lesser characters that have some effect on the main characters. All of these people have history and the more in depth you go the more believable and relatable these characters become.
This is more than enough work for all subsidiary characters, but for the main characters, and secondary characters in the story, I would take this character development to the next level and define their personalities, which, in turn will define what our characters would do in certain situations, but more on that in the next post.
If you’re new hear and you fancy learning the ropes in order to create your own audio drama then why not click on this link and check out the rest of the articles I’ve done so far. If your involved in the drama scene, and you would love to contribute an article or two then please reach out; I’d be happy to feature you and your work.