Sunday, May 8, 2011

Going Crazy for Character, a guest post from @actingnodrama

The first thing I'm going to say about character I'm sure will raise a couple of eyebrows. Characters don't really exist.

Now before you go all postal on me, stop for a moment. I'm not saying character isn't important, or that I don't love character work, or that everything you've been doing up to this point with your character development isn't worthwhile. Not at all. I'm an actor, fercryingoutloud. Of course I think character work is vital to what we're doing as writers.

What I'm saying is that sometimes, in our quest to make our characters "real" we forget that they... well... aren't. They are two-dimensional constructs made up of black characters on a white page (typically... and typographically... speaking). Can they feel real? Absolutely. Can they begin to act and speak for themselves in our work? Hopefully.


Along with that, I think it's good for us to remember that our characters are capable of an almost limitless range of choices. We sometimes box them in with our desire to be "realistic". We don't allow our characters to truly surprise us. And while characters should be consistent, one of the truly consistent things about real people is that they have the ability to change. Sometimes rapidly. There's always motivation for the change, but that change can be quite shocking, both to outside observers and even to the people themselves.

Use some caution here--I'm not talking about the writer's hand. In other words, don't just make your character do something because you need them to, regardless of motivation or established character traits. What I'm discussing is allowing characters to go in unexpected directions. Allow them to surprise you.

Because as much as surprises in real life may not appeal to everyone, in fiction they are GOLDEN. :)

Ben Hopkin (@actingnodrama) is an actor, as well as a writer, director and producer. He teaches online acting classes, and hosts an online radio show on Thursday evenings at 8pm PST. If you're interested in acting, you can check out more of his ideas at


  1. Great posts, Ben! Working on some character development in my WIP. You have valid points here. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Demonstrate the minute your character has his/her crazy break, pushing him/her into full craziness. In my book, my courageous woman's advancement is moderate, yet the minute she breaks is amazing. Your character's break can happen because of dismissal, grievousness, or displeasure (a battle).

  3. This is indeed a great article!! There are also more great essays of similar and different topics at EssayPros . Thanks for sharing this.