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Can You Overdo Fictional Character Development? What You Need, Don't Need, and How to Tell the Difference

Hello lovely authors, and welcome back to the blog! I'm thrilled to be here with you today to discuss a topic that every fiction writer grapples with: character development. Let's dive right into it, shall we?

1. The Question: Can You Overdo Fictional Character Development?

Against a blue and orange background, a man touches his index finger to his chin and looks inquisitive. To his left, yellow and white text reads, "Can you overdo character development? What you need, don't need, and how to tell the difference." Above the text in a blue oval, more blue text reads, "Fiction Author Business School."

As a fiction writer, you're often told to flesh out your characters, to make them as real and complex as possible. But is there such a thing as overdoing it? This question comes up frequently, and it's an intriguing one. The short answer is both yes and no.

On one hand, you want your characters to be detailed and specific. However, filling your story with irrelevant details can bog it down. For instance, consider those old character sheets with 100 questions about your character. While knowing your character's toothbrush color might seem thorough, unless it directly impacts the story, it’s just extraneous information.

2. When Detail Enhances Your Story

Detail is crucial when it amplifies your character arc and enriches your story. Relevant details make your characters memorable and relatable. For example, in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series, the main character's repeated dinner habits were noted by many readers as unnecessary. Such repetitive, irrelevant details can detract from the story's momentum.

To avoid overdoing character development, focus on details that enhance the narrative. If a detail doesn’t drive the plot or develop the character in a meaningful way, it might be best left out.

3. Overdoing Character Development: The Pitfalls

Let's talk about what it means to overdo fictional character development. Overdoing it can mean including too many irrelevant details that don't serve the story or character arc. This can lead to a bloated narrative where readers feel bogged down by unnecessary information.

For instance, if you describe every meal your character eats in detail but it has no bearing on the story, you're overdoing it. Instead, focus on how your character’s actions, decisions, and interactions with other characters reveal their development.

4. Essential Elements of Effective Character Development

So, what do you need for effective character development? Here are five key elements:

a. The Type of Arc

Understand the type of arc your character will undergo: dynamic linear, dynamic shift, or non-dynamic. This will determine the transformation your character experiences throughout the story.

b. Want vs. Need

Your character should have a clear want and need. The want is what they desire at the story’s start, often based on a limiting belief. The need is what they must achieve for true growth, usually involving overcoming this limiting belief.

c. Character Wound

Identify a specific incident in your character’s past that created their limiting belief. This character wound is pivotal in shaping their current behavior and mindset.

d. Backstory

Develop your character’s backstory surrounding their wound. This includes events and experiences that have reinforced their limiting belief, shaping who they are when the story begins.

e. Manifestation in the Story

Brainstorm how your character’s wound and limiting belief will manifest in the story. Consider their reactions in different situations, their decisions, and their interactions with others.

5. Bringing It All Together: Making Characters Jump Off the Page

To create characters that resonate with readers, you need to blend all these elements seamlessly into your narrative. Here’s a quick recap of what you need:

  1. Type of Arc: Decide the transformation your character will undergo.

  2. Want vs. Need: Define what your character wants and what they truly need.

  3. Character Wound: Identify the pivotal incident that shaped their limiting belief.

  4. Backstory: Flesh out their history and experiences.

  5. Manifestation: Show how their wound and belief influence their actions and decisions.

By focusing on these aspects, you'll craft characters that feel real and engaging without overwhelming your story with unnecessary details.

Workshop Announcement

I'm excited to announce a workshop on character development! It's called "How to Write Characters That Jump Off the Page Without Guessing, Being Cliché, or Beating Your Head Against the Wall." This free workshop will be held at the end of July and will delve deeper into the elements we've discussed today.

If you’re interested, the sign-up link is in the show notes. The workshop will be available for a limited time before it’s packaged into a mini-course, so don't miss this opportunity!

Happy writing, and I hope to see you at the workshop!

Feel free to share your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below. Let’s continue this conversation on creating compelling characters together!


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