Character Development in Action: How to Get Past Writer’s Block
by Joshua Hoyt
Today I had the privilege of presenting to a fourth grade class on character development. I explained a little about character creation; then, as a class, we worked together to come up with the physical characteristics of a character. I would pose a question, “How many eyes,” then call on a student to answer the question. The following are the attributes of the character we created: five eyes, boogers in nose, creepy walker (like a zombie), normal nose and mouth, green hair and beard, female, and athletic.
Once they hit the athletic characteristic, I explained to them that we now have our story, or the start of a story. The contradiction between a character with pretty negative features (i.e. boogers in nose, bearded female, walking like a zombie) and being athletic created a story start. I sent two kids out of the room to work with the teacher to come up with why the athletic character would have boogers running out of her nose, walk like a zombie, and have a green beard. The students came back with two great stories and shared them with the class.
This gets me to the point of taking the time to go over the physical characteristics of our characters. We hadn’t even gotten to emotions, beliefs, or behaviors and we already had a story about the character. One fourth grader described how the character had gotten hurt while exercising and then let everything go to waste. This led to the possibility for a moral in the story: overcoming trials in our lives or possibly learning to deal with life even after our dreams have been dashed. The second fourth grader explained that the character worried so much about being healthy that she didn’t really think about how the multivitamins she took affected her body.
As adult authors, we continue to develop our characters’ physical attributes and, more importantly, their emotions and beliefs, and will create more powerful stories about our characters. If you ever run into writer’s block, take a moment to describe your character. Place them into extreme situations and determine how they would react. Find out about their personal stories. Why do they act the way they act? Why do they feel the way they feel when they smell a specific smell? What races through their minds when they see a particular place or person? Answering these questions will open up a plethora of stories that will help you get past writer’s block.
Joshua Hoyt is a school psychologist by day, a father of four and a gamer when he’s not spending time with his family, and an author in all the other spare minutes. He is the author of How to Diagnose Your Character: Using Psychology to Create an In-Depth Character and Order of the Rose. Check out his blog where you can follow the exciting adventure of “The Old Man” and his website to be the first to learn about new releases.