Developing Your Character

This article was originally published in The Writer’s Everything, Issue #005.

What do others do to celebrate his birthday?

What others choose to do on a character’s birthday can be just as influential to the plot of the story as the choices of the character himself. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf’s shipmates in an alternate reality choose to forgo Worf’s preferences, throwing him a surprise party in spite of his dislike for such occasions. In Sixteen Candles, Samantha eagerly looks forward to receiving a surprise party for her birthday, but her family ends up forgetting all about it, and she has to occupy her time with other activities. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, neither Max Dillon’s mother nor his boss remember his birthday, and because of that, he is forced to work overtime and suffers a tragic accident, transforming into the super-powered Electro.

How does he feel about his current age?

Age plays a strong role in both character motivations and outlooks on life. A character may choose a path of inaction with the belief that he still has plenty of time left to achieve his goals later. Or a character may perform many inadvisable actions because he is ‘still young,’ or because he wants to achieve the items on his bucket list before he is too old to do so. In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins realizes that he is getting up in age, and decides that he wants to go on one last adventure before he dies. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, James Kirk realizes that without command of the Enterprise, he lacks his purpose in life, and will quickly become a relic like his collection of antiques.

Does he wish he was a different age? If so, why?

Often, the opinion that a character holds for his age is directly related to the choices he makes in a given situation. In Bridge to Terabithia, Jesse Aarons attempts to act like he’s much older and more mature than he actually is, in an attempt to earn the affections of his teacher, Ms. Edmunds.

Does his age influence the way he’s treated?

The age of a character can have a substantial effect on the way others perceive and treat him. Children may be seen as immature and irresponsible, while older ones may be looked down on as senile and frail. On the flip side, children may be looked up to as intelligent and adaptable, while older ones may be held in high honor for their wisdom and experience. In Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, the Jedi Council does not want to approve the training of Anakin because they thought he was already too old to begin such a rigorous journey. In Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, Padmé looks down on Anakin’s position as a Jedi because of his youth, choosing on at least one occasion to disregard his recommendations in favor of her own. In Ender’s Game, young children are gathered and trained as soldiers because they have greater capacity for creative problem solving than adults.

The Writer’s Everything

This article, as well as many others, have been featured in previous issues of my writing journal, The Writer’s Everything, in which I, along with occasional guest contributors, provide essays, guides, encouragement, motivation, writing prompts, character bio development kits, and anything else that can help you turn your dream of becoming a writer into a reality.

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