The “Come, Cliche, Crackdown” Approach to Character Development

professor-at-work-1024629-mThere is no one way, or a “correct” way, to go about crafting your characters: especially your supporting characters. I know that I don’t even go about character development in a uniform manner from work to work or “person” to “person.” I don’t really have a process.

  • Some characters just pop up in my head, fully formed. I know who they are and what their background is. I know what their major role will be in my story. (Laskenay in “The Crimson League” is a good example of this. I think she will always be my personal favorite of the characters I’ve written.)
  • Some characters I have an idea about, but don’t realize how vital they will end up proving to my story or overall series arc. (Like Vane, who makes his first appearance in “The Crimson League” and could almost be called the protagonist of the last two installments of my Herezoth trilogy.)
  • Some characters I have a physical image of, but my initial inclinations about who they are and what “makes them tick” are totally wrong. Like Verony Staid, the protagonist of my new WIP who was actually a villain sorceress in a previous draft of a different story.

Still, I wanted to use this post to highlight what might be the most common method I use to develop characters. You could call it:

The “Come, Cliche, Crack Down” approach.

As you can see, this approach has three steps. And a scene I am currently writing for my Herezoth prequel/companion novel really displays it in full effect. Maybe you have experienced something similar. Maybe you go about creating characters a completely different way, because you outline ahead of time. (I like to wing it.)

In either case, I hope this is a fun and perhaps informative read!

The “COME” Stage


This is pretty simple: it’s the arrival of your character. The first time he or she appears on the page. I don’t usually have a full grasp of the character’s potential at this point. I just know I needed someone like this person in the scene at hand

The character I’m highlighting today is Professor Lit. He is a middle-aged professor of history. I introduced him into the story because I needed to introduce magic. Herezoth is all about magic, after all. Especially in the time period in which I set my novel.

So, my protagonist walks into a bar (No, I’m not setting up a joke here.) Seriously, Verony walks into a tavern to meet some friends. And they are talking to the professor and his brother.

You see, Palace servants frequent this tavern, and the Professor is hoping for some royal backing for an expedition to the Pearl Mountains, to find artifacts from and learn more about Herezoth’s ancient sorcerers. Since official channels have failed him, he’s hoping some servants might be able to pull him some strings.

Verony happens to be the queen’s errand girl, so he tells her his story.

The “CLICHE” Stage


Cliche is the next stage. This is when you realize how much you might actually be able to do with your new character, beyond your immediate need for him or her (such as introducing the concept of magic and its roots in your fantasy world.)

I call this stage “cliche” because in my excitement I go way overboard with my mental planning. I usually cross into stereotype territory. You know….

  • This guy could do some cool stuff!
  • I don’t know if he has magic himself. I think not, but that could change!
  • After a kind of rough start maybe he and Verony could grow close. She doesn’t have parents, after all. Maybe he could even be some kind of, I don’t know…. MENTOR.

Um, Gandalf much? What about Dumbledore?

Yeah, the fantasy mentor stereotype is going to be a problem. Other stereotypes I’ve flown into with other characters (in projects I abandoned): the knight in shining armor, the megalomaniac villain, and a bit of Mary Sue as well.

The “CRACK DOWN” Stage


This comes after that moment of realization hits me…. You know, the realization that I can’t exactly recreate Albus Dumbledore as a character.

Since I make up my story as I go, this stage is an extended and slow process of reining in my tendency to go all cliche. I try to individualize my character, both in personality and in the role he will play in my story.

I still don’t know what Professor Lit’s ultimate contribution to my story is going to be. But I know that, based on his first appearance, I’ve set him up to reappear, and I want him to reappear. I have some ideas slowly taking a more concrete form.

Can’t wait to see how this all shakes out! But hey, the mystery and the wonderful surprises have always been my favorite part of the writing process!



17 responses to “The “Come, Cliche, Crackdown” Approach to Character Development

  1. Don’t you love how these secondary characters whisper in your ear, and convince you to let them do more things?

    I recently wrote a story that I was trying to do in four story parts, each with the same word count. Part Two needed filler, so I added a scene, complete with a new minor character. He got to be the instrument of revenge on my antagonist’s chief helper. It was so much fun.

    • I really do love it! We have to think about them, and treat them, as though they were real people. And don’t real people tend to want center stage and focus on themselves? I know I tend to be self-centered sometimes. Not selfish, per se, but focused on myself and my plans and what is happening in my life…. I don’t consider it a good thing, necessarily, but it’s there.

  2. I have opposite-side tendencies with my characters. I have an overdeveloped sense of what is cliche, or “common” in fiction (Dang You TV Tropes), so my characters rarely play straight on any archetype. Instead, they end up as weird amalgamations of personality traits that normally don’t fit together.

    For instance, in Darkness Concealed, one of my characters is Caleb Moss, a farmer who has dreamed of the world-ending apocalypse called the Darkening for most of his life (i.e., he has seen people helplessly die thousands of times). As a change in said dreams “forces” him to seek a point to it all (leaving his mother and farming village behind), he comes across as a shrinking violet conflict avoider, while being extremely good at ending conflict purely by his soft demeanor.

    His dreams turn into the setup for every major plot point in the book, essentially an unspoken guide of where they need to head next, but that heroic tendency of his is underplayed by his self-doubt for most of the story. And later in the book where his horrible dreams actually become an advantage, he’s so used to be nearly useless compared to the other more clearly-capable characters that he downplays that too.

    • I love what you say here!!! Mixing stereotypes, turning them on their hands, can all be fun ways to avoid chliche and create an individual character people will remember! The darkening sure sounds terrifying, by the way!

      • Ohh, I like this too! For me, the whole point of reading is to read something NEW, and I love twists on the expected. I think I’ll have to check out this book.

  3. Character is most important thing in fiction.

  4. Reblogged this on Being an Author and commented:
    Character is the most important thing in fiction.

  5. It would be cool if Verony used him for her own ends, not really getting permission from the queen, but somehow forging it so Professor Lit reports his findings back to her. Is she good is, she bad? I’m waffling.

    My characters typically take a lot of planning or are born out of necessity to the plot (like a master of arms), but sometimes I just want a character of a certain personality, so I can wing them more.

    • I love winging characters! And I’m kind of up in the air about Verony. She started out as a villain in a previous book, a villain sorceress even. But now I’m decided to give her much weaker magic and as the focus of the story she’s definitely not evil-evil but she is a bit…. well, a bit bitter about the social structure of the world (she’s a nobleman’s bastard.) So when the true villain takes over and wants to change things I can see her being tempted to join him!!! I haven’t gotten that far yet, but telling the story of the coup from the bad guys’ side….. that could be truly interesting….

  6. This has been a huge, worrying issue for me: have I just copied another character? After I’ve written someone, I step back and think, “Who does this remind me of?” If I can think of a parallel, I got back and rewrite them. Sometimes I do use a cliche, then try to twist it. I have a character who is overbearing, loud, and determined to resolve a long-standing issue (typical strong female character). But when she gets her opportunity, she shrinks back, realizing that the bravery she’s pretended for two books is actually all ego. In the third book she comes back older, wiser, and still doubting herself. (After some more thought I realized, “Does she remind me of anyone? Yes! Me! Crud.)

  7. When I was fist putting together my story, one particular character came to mind first, and she stuck with me throughout. I have always been more connected with her. The problem is, she was not my protagonist. She was to be a major character, but I wanted her to interact with my protagonist so that she, being the main character, could grow from the wisdom and interaction of this other character. The problem I ran into was that she was coming through more and more strong. She wanted to be the MC in her story! So, since I am doing this from three different time periods and viewpoints, I’ve been considering breaking it into a trilogy or series. I keep going back and forth between one book or the trilogy/series. So, I feel like I am spinning my wheels sometimes! 🙂 Hopefully I will figure it out soon. 🙂

  8. Very helpful post. I do get a bit nervous when creating characters. The best ones usually come to me out of nowhere, and develop over the course of the book I write, then I worry they might be too similar to another character or not strong enough.

    Great post 🙂

  9. Pingback: AUTHORS: on balancing personal struggles with action in creative writing | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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