under developed vs. over developed characters

Under-developed characters vs. over-developed characters

If you came here for tips on under-developed characters, I can only apologise. I have none. This is a cry for help if anything. Or, more likely, a way to procrastinate productively (it’s still procrastination, Boo) because I’ve reached a sticky part in the novel writing process

(hint: that’s all the damn time).

Back in the day, before I’d invented anyone, I never really thought about characters. They were just…there. Because, spoiler alert, I’d never made a great character. I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet here – I mean, there are tonnes of great characters out there that are badly written (I’m not naming and shaming, because

a) I think it’s tacky

b) I don’t want people to be angry at me

and c) I can’t be bothered to think of any.

This is an exercise in procrastination, remember.

But now I have a character whom – I want to be her but also know that I’m. Not. At. All. Also, she has to spend a lot of time sleeping in tents and that’s not really for me tbh. I like hot showers, inside toilets and the telly. Still, I can dream/nightmare. The issue is, she’s been in my head for so long (shes made multiple appearances in books I’ve since abandoned) that I almost feel like I can’t do her justice. Like she’d hate me for writing her like that. As I type this I realise how weird this sounds BUT I DON’T WANT TO WASTE HER.

It all comes down the problem most writers have (I assume): it’s hard to put your thoughts into words.

The problem with under-developed characters…

Under-developed characters, in general, are either dull or shortlived. You know the Willian Faulkner quote ‘kill your darlings’? I generally have to repeat it to myself a lot whilst rocking back and forth because I’ve usually got some dull, useless character running around doing nothing of any interest. That one key phrase he says could, in fact, be said by someone else.

I end up having to condense two people into one quite often, because of them said something that moved the whole plot in a completely different direction and consequently changed the course of history and then disappeared off into the ether or was shot in the face.

The problem with over-developed characters

I would not be surprised if I was the only person in the whole world to encounter this issue. I don’t even mean the being-scared-to-write-my-fave-character-a-crap-story thing either.

It’s far stupider than that.

I end up underwriting people. For the first draft of my current story, I really took to heart Terry Pratchett’s words: ‘the first draft is you telling yourself the story’. Good innit? So draft 1. was a huge mess of backstory and world building. As first drafts go it’s abysmal, but it helped me hugely in two ways:

  1. It really allowed to get to know the characters and the world I’d created.
  2. It highlighted that my book barely had a plot at all.

Luckily, I already had a very weak plot to go on *flips hair*, plus characters, so it didn’t take me long to really come up with a plan, and I’ve recently started writing draft 2.

But here’s the thing. I keep forgetting to introduce basic things about characters. I assume that the audience knows them like I do. It’s infuriating. I’m not talking about eye colour/hair colour/height/weight etc. – I made the conscious choice to reveal as little about that as possible for reasons I shall explain later, should I remember.

I mean, like the jobs people do, how they’re related to one another. There’s a difference between flowery, adjective-and-adverb-ridden drivel and actually telling readers who the hell everyone is and what’s going on.

I feel like I’m giving people the film version of the story, not the book. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll get what I mean (seriously, do the people who only watch the films never wonder where the Marauder’s map came from?).

No one wants that.

I find there’s more pressure with the second draft because when you write your first draft, everyone’s advice is to go like the clappers without any editing. It’s also supposed to be shit. The second draft needs to not be shit. That’s hard for some people. Also, you’re supposed to think about word choice and tone and all the other stuff we were expressly told not to worry about with draft 1.

Other things in my life this week…

So that’s where I am in my writing life – just starting draft 2 and over developing characters beyond explanation. In my other life, I’ve just picked up Children of Blood and Bone, which I’m suuuper excited for, but I’ve promised myself I won’t start until I finish Sculptor’s Daughter.

I’ve also bought How Not to Die, which I think/hope is about how good eating plants is. I’m banking on it inspiring me to be a better vegan; one that eats legumes and berries. My current diet of salad, oven chips, and Linda McCartney sausages probs isn’t what people think of when they imagine what vegans eat.

Btw, the reason I don’t go in much for (don’t much go in for? grammar’s hard) giving much of a physical description of characters is that for a start, it’s kind of immaterial – who cares if the main character’s got brown or yellow hair? And describing eye colour is a bit weird – I’ve cared about many people for many years without ever knowing their eye colour. \

I could be a bit touchy on this subject because I don’t have an eye colour – they’re a murky cool-toned colour, but not green or grey or blue enough to be any of those specific colours. I also have mousey, cool toned hair which can’t be accurately described (not nicely anyway) either. Go me.

Also, and this is tragic, I LOVE debating ‘who’d play who’ with friends (read: my mum). I’m still not over Gary Oldman playing Sirius Black. I mean, he was good and he made it his own, but REALLY? Sirius was meant to be in his early thirties and pretty damn sexy (that’s subjective, I get it) but he had long black hair. Considering he was wearing a wig anyway, you’d think they could have made it a little more accurate.


So yeah, I’d love to hear how different readers envisioned the characters, and then referee their fights.

Ok, procrastination’s over, and it’s bedtime. I’ll take that as a win.

My SEO plugin is telling me that I need links to have good SEO, so here’s a link to Bloons Tower Defence 3, which is fucking great. It’s not an affilite link, because I don’t like all the disclaimer’s littering my site, and I can’t be arsed to write them on every single post.

under developed vs. over developed characters





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