The Myth of Character Development pt. II

In last week’s post, we discussed what has led to the myth of character development. We discussed why it has come about, and why it has stuck around. So now we need to discuss the truths of what real character development is.



The problem I find with most author’s advice on character development is that of time. They say we need to fully develop a characters by the end of the story. We have to spend all of our time giving the characters depth and filling out every end of their psyche before the pages run out.

Here’s the problem: that’s simply not true, and it takes away from the greater story. Or it adds thousands of unneeded words.

When Tolkien set out and wrote his Lord of the Rings trilogy, I’m pretty sure he would have laughed off the idea of fully developing a character in one book. Think about this: if characters are supposed to be fully developed in one story, then real life must be full of gods. All of us should have fully developed our personalities by the time we were 12 years old because we would have been in enough situations to write a novel and therefore we will be well rounded and no secrets of ourselves will be hidden or undiscovered.

This is quite obviously a bunch of hokum. No one is fully developed as a person EVER. What makes us as authors think we can fully explore a character in 50, 80, 100k words?

It’s the myth of sitcoms right? Problem, action, solution, everybody is holding hands and singing kumbayah in 30 (maybe 60) minutes. Even something like a crime drama gives you a full profile of a criminal in an hour. Maybe two if he’s really bad and has to take up two episodes.

If we said that every show is a short story and an hour show takes roughly 60 pages, that means the average novel would take a 3 1/2 hour movie. At bare minimum. Think about how much story and character development they cut out of the three LOTR movies. Nobody would sit through it at real full length. And most average readers I know never finished those books. Why? They have unrealistic expectations about the time it takes to truly develop a character.

Bad Marketing

Whether we artists want to admit it or not, we have to make money. We have chosen to do this by creating art. Therefore, we must continue to create art. I don’t know about you, but if I have a great idea that can be serialized, I want to hang on that as long as I can. Sherlock Holmes, Dirk Pitt, Nancy Drew. All of them serialized and none of them complete. Why? Because people don’t fully develop over the course of one book, and several books make more money than one book. Usually.

True Development

A Character is not fully developed unless they have reached their end point. So here’s the crux of the matter: how much character development should I write? Am I going to write another book? Is this the only one? How many years are spanned in my story? How much time period? These are the questions that should be answered first.

Obviously there are exceptions to the rule: If your male white supremecist antagonist is saved by your young African American woman protagonist, that might cause a drastic shift. Or if a young boys parents are murdered in front of him and he decides to live his life for justice. Perhaps one day your character learns they can fly. But ideally, you want to stretch out the character as long as you can. Simply for this reason:

You are still developing as the protagonist of your own story.

Don’t sell it short. Take your time. Don’t give in to the teenage illusions of soul mates and perfection.

Be an author.

The Myth of Character Development

It seems like everyone who wants to give advice to aspiring authors has one thing they harp on more than anything else. They claim that it will make or break your story. It will draw in or alienate your audience. Your success and skill will be endlessly measured by it.

The it, of course, is character development. The things they are saying are pretty much all lies. Or at least, half truths. You can’t even google “authors who didn’t need character development” without getting a bunch of posts about how to develop characters. It makes me sad.


1. The Half Truth

One of my favorite authors is Arthur C. Clarke. If you have ever read one of his stories, whether it was a novel or short fiction, I dare you to remember a character’s name. I read his stuff all the time and I can’t. But I can tell you exactly what happened in the story. I can tell you all of the cool ideas. In fact, when I read his stories that are character-centric, I tend to leave them unfinished. He simply couldn’t do it. He can’t write an intriguing character. Except for HAL-9000. And that was a computer.

Yet he was a very successful writer. He wrote and sold a lot of novels, tons of short fiction, and even a few screenplays. The myth of having intriguing characters is much more a result of something else.

2. YA lit

I feel that Young Adult literature has skewed fiction a bit. Young Adults, or as we used to call them: teenagers, are at a point in their development that requires a sense of belonging. Something or someone to relate to. Harry Potter struggles just like they do. Bella and Edward were meant to be together, no matter what anyone else says. All of these things point to a deep need for something other than a story.

3. Visual Media

TV and Movies have always been character driven. Lots of movies have no plot whatsoever. And lots of TV shows have to rely on character development to drive the whole ship. The lines between a written medium and a visual medium have become very blurred, leading to television tactics in the great American novel.

4. It’s not all bad

Now, don’t hear me saying that characters don’t matter. They do. I just don’t think we have to spend so much time developing every one of them to the point that we can write all of their back stories. This epidemic has to be put into perspective.


Next Time

Next week, we can discuss fixing this mass falsehood. What is good character development? How much do of it is enough? Why are everyone’s main characters a transcendental metaphor?

Next time! All this…and more…


Adventure Time

There’s something about Adventure that I can’t shake. Whether it’s in a book, or in real life, I crave it. It’s why I read Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon series, and Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Rendezvous With Rama’. It’s why I love Star Wars. It’s why I hunt and fish. I’m sort of a junkie.

What makes an adventure so great?

I think in the beginning, what’s so great about an adventure is the goal. There’s something you have to get, something to accomplish. This goal ends up driving the first part of your adventure and causes a sense of purpose. If you happen to be going on this adventure with others, an instant bond is formed within your party because of the common goal. Ah, the excitement of a fresh departure.

But then something goes wrong…

Perhaps you lose a friend (heavens NO!)

Or maybe you find another group of adventurers who happen to be a little less morally conservative than you are. Perhaps your mode of transportation becomes broken, requiring a pit stop. Maybe you meet someone who really needs your help RIGHT NOW and the other thing can wait. Maybe it’s taking longer to reach your goal than you previously thought. Whatever the case is, this adventure is starting to turn into a job.

But then you realize

You are becoming or have become something much more than you were before. Gained some courage. Perhaps some Jedi powers or some sweet swordsmanship skilz. Perhaps a magic staff or a talking bird. The one guy you couldn’t connect with when you started out is now your bestest friend in the whole wide world. You would totally take an arrow for that guy. Or a bullet. Or a laser beam. You know, whatever projectiles are being flung your way. Maybe you don’t reach your goal. Or you have to spend another book/movie finding it. Or another week out in the bush. Who cares. You’ve finally realized that the greatest thing about your adventure was the adventure itself. So why not stay out a little longer?

What Are Your Thoughts on Horror?

I’ve recently come up with an idea for a horror story, but I’m not sure how to go about it. I’m so much more into Sci-Fi and Fantasy that i find horror difficult. Don’t get me wrong; I like some horror. My friend J Aurel Guay uses me as a beta reader and has written some great horror. I’m also a fan of some horror movies and Poe is good as some earlier type stuff. My question is this:

What are your thoughts? Do you love it? Hate it? Should I go for it?

Let me know in the comments!