For my first Character Development feature I wanted to give credit where credit is due! My favorite book on character development is BREATHING LIFE INTO YOUR CHARACTERS by Rachel Ballon. It’s an empowering and informative read!
I learned so much about creating characters from this book that I would have to plagiarize the heck out of it to talk about it all. However, the main point that this book taught me about character development was that I needed to look inside myself to find my characters.
Sounds cliche right?
Let me use an example. When I was a teenager I was a self-destructive drug addict. I loved the pain I caused myself and the people I loved. I also hated myself and the pain I caused the people I loved. It was a weird contradiction that ruled my life for a while. I grew up, and grew out of it (hello Narcotics Anonymous, goodbye f*ck me boots), but the experience was something that gave me great fodder for several characters; their contradictory thoughts, feelings, urges, and behaviors. I just didn’t know how to use it.
Before I read BREATHING LIFE INTO YOUR CHARACTERS, I thought those experiences were entrenched in the past under a blanket of dust and dirty laundry; hidden behind a screen of shame and justification and time. Before I read the book, my protagonists were honest, they had integrity; they behaved like heroes. They embodied my goals. Even my villains acted just the way they should; only marginally bad, with a completely understandable and sad story to justify their behavior. In essence, they were cardboard cutouts, not people. But pulling my memories of those times out and examining them with my adult clarity gave me a new sense of who I was, how I evolved, and why I behaved the way I did during those challenging and formative years.
This, in turn, helped me build characters who evolved and devolved, who ate their pain with a side of mayo and ketchup (my favorite, by the way… I may or may not need to go on a diet); characters who laughed at the darkness, or played in it, or huddled and cringed at the darkness inside of them as well as at the darkness without.
Rachel Ballon’s book gave me the ability to step out of my own shoes, and then take a good look at the underside of them, at the layers that created me. Then it gave me the tools to use that information to create characters who were wildly different from myself, but who still had those same layers. Layers of love and hate, resentment and gratitude, shame and pride, violence and compassion.
I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to write anything with people in it. With lots of thought provoking examples, painfully honest exercises, and practical advice, BREATHING LIFE INTO YOUR CHARACTERS is a book worth adding to any writer’s library.
I also hear Ms. Ballon helps people with, you know, personal problems. Shhhh, no one here has those, we’ll just be moving along now… 😉
Find her at: http://www.rachelballon.com/