Posted in Character Development, short story writing, Writing

How To Fully Develop Characters In Short Stories

To me, characters are the most important part of story telling. Without characters, there would no villain, there would be no hero. Therefore, there would be no plot, no conflict.

When you write a novel, you have 200-500 pages (give or take) to delve deep into your characters. Their past, present, and future. Their likes and dislikes, their opinions. Their friends and family. Their motive, anything that makes them tick.

When you write a short story, you don’t have much time to go into that much detail. Not all that detail is exactly needed, depending on what’s going on in your story.

So, how do you develop your characters fully in such a short amount of time?

How to fully develop characters in short stories

Step 1. Create your characters as best as you can

If you Google “character chart,” a billion results will come up. (It’s actually a tad over 67 million, but who’s counting?)

There are so many charts out there that ask the basic of basic questions:

  • Name (first, middle, last)
  • Birthday/age
  • Job
  • Appearance
  • Family?
  • Close friends?
  • Religion
  • Single/married?

And then there’s the obvious… favorite color, food, likes and dislikes, phobias, etc.

Pick a chart or two and fill it out. You’ll probably only use 15% of it, but those things are good to know anyway.

Step 2. Get to know your characters 100%

Talk to your characters. Interview them and get to know them as though you’re meeting a new friend. Write basic flash fiction about them and their background.

Again, not everything you come up with will be known to your readers, but at least you’ll have canon scenarios in your head.

Step 3. Sift through all the information and zero in on the four most important aspects of your characters

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE

Allow your readers to imagine what your characters look like through physical descriptions. Skin color, eye color, hair color and length, height, weight, noticeable birthmarks, etc.

Not all of this will be needed, but if it’s important, add it in. If a birthmark has something to do with the plot, then it needs to be known. If not, it may not be needed at all. But you can still write about it and then edit it out later.

EMOTIONAL STATE

This varies depending on the point of view you use, but for your protagonist, allow your readers to get into their mind. What’s their thought process like? What kinds of decisions do they make? Do they have any outstanding memories or fears that are important to the plot and show how the character came to be?

SPEECH

Now that we know how they think, how do they speak? Do they talk loud or quiet? Do they speak their mind or are they more reserved? Do they think out loud?

ACTION

What does your character do? Don’t worry about showing your character driving from point A to point B. Just page-break them there and let them do what they need to do.

In conclusion…

Characters are hard to put together. They’re complex, just like us. Get to know them as though you’re their mother or father (which you are, kind of). Pick out the important pieces needed to showcase them and get through the conflict of the short story.

If your character is trying to get to school on time for an important test, you don’t need to let the readers know that one of your character’s hobbies is playing video games. Unless, of course, the video games were what made your character late.

It can tie in easily with the story or not at all. And that’s up to you to do decide.

How do you go about developing your short story characters? Do you have anything to add to this? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

17 thoughts on “How To Fully Develop Characters In Short Stories

  1. Great tips Rachel. I think knowing it but not including it all is such an important point – it could ruin a story by including too much detail, but when the author knows the detail without dumping it on the page, it helps to create a fully rounded, ‘real’ character – and that really comes across in the writing.

    1. I agree. It’s kind of hard to explain why, but I think there are certain things that can come across on the page without the author actually mentioning it. Plus, there are a few things here and there that the readers should be able to “assume” about the characters.

  2. I think this is my greatest weakness when it comes to short stories. I come up with characters on the fly, base them on various things and just delve into the story. I’ll only develop a character when I’m writing a novel. Maybe I should start with short stories too and this is helpful.

    1. It’s definitely harder to develop them in such a shorter amount of time. I wouldn’t have thought of it either if it wasn’t for my writing group in real life. They just happen to ask certain questions that I was like, “I don’t even know the answer to that.”

  3. Sound advice, as an avid reader of and enthusiastic writer of, short stories I do find a certain lack of conviction in the characters. The reader can only surmise so much in their mental picture and a little help is encouraging.

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