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I am working on a book for fun and have thought a lot about character development. Is character development as important as the actual dialog of the story?

For example, I was reading a book this weekend that was written by one of the biggest legal thriller writers at the moment. The main character is in prison and then at the end moves to some place in South America and finds himself wealthy.

I thought that the story was good and the characters seem well described. But is the character development of the person needed before the story really gets going? Should the first chapters develop the character in the mind of the reader or can it build and add new items through the course of the story?

I have heard people say that some authors spend too much time describing a character or a scene and not enough on dialog. To me I like a good story but I had an English teacher tell me that you have to have the character developed in the beginning of the story rather than develop them throughout the course of the book.

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Many authors develop their characters before starting to write the story. So they know how they characters should behave throughout the story. But that has nothing to do with developing the character in the first chapter. I think you misunderstood your teacher. –  John Smithers Jan 26 at 18:19
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5 Answers 5

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I like reading stories where the characters are given an initial run-down as they are introduced into the story.

The run-down could roast the character in sarcasm, describing what others say and had said about the character, or praise him/her, would include their hitherto history and known accomplishment, rumours and hearsay.

I classify the contents of a run-down into

  1. The author's personal description about the character/personality of the character. (Character of the character? Silly, but how else could I say it?)

  2. The author's revelation about the thought history, desires and disappointments of the character that only the author would have known.

  3. The character's known history

    1. known by general public
    2. known by a select few
    3. known by a partner
  4. History of chatter, opinions, roasts, allegations found in item 3 concerning the character, but written without direct opinion from the author about the character.

    1. General public chatter
    2. Excerpts of chatter within family, colleagues, nemeses, small unknown parties
    3. Past interactions with spouse, children, close friends, nemesis.

The run-down is lightened up and made entertaining with roasts and sarcasm. A run-down is written as an intriguing short story within the story. I am not saying the run-down is compartmentalized into the four categories. Rather, the run-down relies on those four categories written as a short story.

But as the story proceeds, the actual character of those persons would take twists and turns, that would prove the initial run-down as wrong, inadequate or vindicated, besides the changes in the personality and experiences of the character.

I remember reading Dune. I remember the doctor who betrayed Duke Leto Atreides. However, I also recall observing Frank Herbert's writing of the series having become darker and relying more on author's personal perception in the initial run-down of a character, after the death of his wife. I think when an author becomes lazy making the initial run-down an op-ed piece rather than an intriguing short-story - that ruins the whole story.

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I agree with Lauren I think you're confusing character establishment with character development. Character development is something you do before or while you're writing the story.

I'm the type who develops the characters while writing the story (throughout the story not only at the beginning). For me, they can only become alive if I see them interacting with the story because, in a sense, they are the story. Then after they are somehow developed I go back and develop them a bit more.

Although I think developing too much a character is never a bad thing, I don't understand why you want to see it as something separated from the story or dialogue. The story is the character, and the character is the story.

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You should establish the character early on, but I don't think you can develop anyone all in the beginning. What point is there for the story, then, if the character is done developing?

The reader should have some sense of who the person is before the real meat of the tale gets underway. Revealing parts of the character as you go is part of the point of a story.

I think either you misunderstood your teacher or the teacher was flat-out wrong.

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I, as a reader, cannot really know what a character is like until I see that character tested. Any clod can say “I love you”, but what if the beloved replies “If you really loved me, you’d kill my ex-husband”?

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"...and if you really loved me, you'd frame his new girlfriend for the murder." –  Lauren Ipsum Jan 28 at 15:23
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When I started out i got a lot of dialog on paper. But I was missing something, personalities. I recently downloaded an app that helped me with that. It asked detailed questions about my characters. From fears and education to eye color. Now it is easier for me to write out feelings. knowing your characters is very important.

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What app? While you probably don't want to sound like spam, a link in the comments could be useful. –  DougM Jan 24 at 20:27
    
It is called A Novel Idea –  user6796 Jan 24 at 21:53
    
I understand that it is essential to have your character built up so you can define it's reactions throughout the scenario. But what if you have a solid scenario you have to follow? Do you rewrite the scenario or redefine your character? –  xpy Jan 28 at 20:11
    
xpy just like in life experiences and environment should shape your character for you. If your character loves the water and something tragic happens in the water, the character may fear the water now. So i believe it is a little of both the scenario could change to fit the character or the character could change to fit the scenario. It is up to you to choose if the story defines you character or if the character steers the story. –  user6796 Jan 28 at 21:23
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