What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it?

Idealect

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Is it:

1. How well the character's personality is gotten across?
2. Characters undergoing personal growth?
3. Sometimes one or the other?
4. Both meanings somehow mashed into one concept?


If it's the first I don't understand why it's called "development" and not realisation or description or something. Development sounds like a slow unfolding process, which is far from the only way to establish a character.


If it means personal growth why are people so fond of it? People include it alongside good world building, interesting plot, and good writing on checklists of what makes a good book. Are they then talking in the first sense? Or do a people just see character growth as essential to a good story? If so why?


And if its both how did these two completely distinct concepts get mashed up into the same two word... word? phrase?... concept storing word combination?

I'm sure there's a philosophy term for exactly this concept but I don't know it.



So what are people's thoughts and theories on character development?
 

Overread

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

I would say that its both, depending upon the character and that they are mashed together because for the reader they are both sort of similar.

Most key characters are explored to a deeper level than general stereotypes and thus for a reader the development of the character as a person to that reader is both equal parts learning who that character is in the now/past of the story world; and then further seeing how that character reacts to the world through the story itself. We see if the characters established character withstands the events untouched (and thus through that often also reveals what the characters character is in itself); or we see them change, giving us insight into the old and then again how they've developed and changed.


So in a sense its development in both ways - either development from a historical context or development in a current context.


You are correct that they are, strictly speaking, different things. However the average reader is going to lump the two experiences together into the same casual grouping of developing the character - its more the author who has to have a clear understanding of the differences.
 

Bick

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

When I hear that a book showcases good character development, I take it to mean that the author, over the passage of the book, develops the depth and and detail of the character in question. Personally, I don't take it to mean that the character 'grows' in some new-age manner.
 

tinkerdan

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

I would agree with the notion that Character development refers to the portrayal of characteristics that are unique to the character and define several things about that character that often demonstrate a correlation to how that character reacts it their own specific way to the events that drive the plot. A believable character that the reader can easily identify with that shows consistency.

And might include but should not be defined by growth; by demonstrating the need improvement or at least highlight some fault or weakness and it might also include showcasing their strengths and their positive values. Though it would be nice to see some growth I wouldn't think that is necessary to have good character development.

Growth would tie more closely to the Plot because it's in part the plot that determines whether they will grow stronger or stay constant or change-change doesn't necessarily show up as growth. Some of the characters die some might even appear to go backwards. Some may win some may lose. That does not mean they grew.
 

j d worthington

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

It generally refers, in the first instance, to the development (as in roundedness) of the presentation of the character -- giving a fully-fleshed-out character rather than a two-dimensional lookalike.

In the second instance, it is valued because it shows how conflict (always, in one way or another, the basis of a story) acts on a character to cause change, whether that be positive or negative; much as people react to crises in real life by adapting and changing, often for the good, but also frequently for the worse; and this is in turn valued because it is a more accurate approach to presenting a believable character, one the reader can, however distantly (as with certain nasty sorts) have some sort of empathic connection with... not condone, nor necessarily sympathize in the usual sense of agreeing with, but be able to get inside the head of and recognize as presenting a reasonable facsimile of a real human being.

And yes, the two often go hand in hand, given the nature of mimetic fiction, as they each play a role in advancing the narrative while holding the readers' interest....
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

Basically, in the case of character development, "growth" simply means change. In a short story, this doesn't matter so much, but if the events in the course of a novel don't cause the main character to change in some way, then there is a strong likelihood that nothing much of importance happened ... which would make a boring book. So it is not really a question of literary merit but of what is most likely to produce an interesting character and an interesting story. Static characters are usually less compelling.

Although in most stories the change is a positive one, as the character matures, grows in knowledge, or is somehow a better or wiser person by the end, in some books (or plays) the character gradually sinks into madness, obsession, dissipation, or otherwise ends up a wretched and tragic figure. (If they don't end up dead, which could happen, too.)

But there are certainly other ways, besides watching a character "grow," to keep readers interested. It's just that this tends to be one of the most satisfying.


Edit -- Was composing my reply at the same time as JD.
 

psikeyhackr

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

Is it:

1. How well the character's personality is gotten across?
2. Characters undergoing personal growth?

I think it is mostly #1 but it depends on the timeline of the story.

Some stories only involve days or weeks of storytime so #2 does not apply.

But other stories cover years in which case both apply especially if the character is young at the beginning of the story.

psik
 

Brian G Turner

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

Interesting question, because I think the Q&A mean different things to readers and writers.

To readers, character development will probably mean how real the characters are described - however, to writers, character development is supposed to be about how the protagonist changes and adapts to the challenges before them.

Hope that helps. :)
 

BelgarionOz

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

When I hear that a book showcases good character development, I take it to mean that the author, over the passage of the book, develops the depth and and detail of the character in question. Personally, I don't take it to mean that the character 'grows' in some new-age manner.

I'm not sure I like the inference in that last sentence.

As people our personalities (characters) are changing and growing every second that we are awake and interacting with the world. No one who is alive today is exactly the same as they were when they were 5 years old. We learn things, we encounter new situations, and we adjust our thinking, beliefs, emotional responses and the rest to take those experiences into account.

Characters in a story should do they same; they are meant to be 'real' people after all. At the beginning they will believe certain things, have certain ideas and preconceptions about things, and will act in certain ways. By the end some of those things will have changed. Perhaps not massively, but they will still have become different to what they were at the beginning.

To me character development is the way in which you show that change. How you describe and show the different attributes of their personality at different times. Is it believable? Do the changes they undergo make sense? Those are the sort of things you should look at.
 

HareBrain

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

To me character development is the way in which you show that change. How you describe and show the different attributes of their personality at different times. Is it believable? Do the changes they undergo make sense? Those are the sort of things you should look at.

That thing there, look you! (Or "this" if you prefer.) It's just change in response to what happens in the story. Can be negative as well as positive.

Having said that, I believe one of the refreshing/interesting things about John Fowles's The Magus is that despite 600 pages of weird experiences, the main character learns and grows practically not at all.
 

Bick

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

I'm not sure I like the inference in that last sentence.

As people our personalities (characters) are changing and growing every second that we are awake and interacting with the world. No one who is alive today is exactly the same as they were when they were 5 years old. We learn things, we encounter new situations, and we adjust our thinking, beliefs, emotional responses and the rest to take those experiences into account.

Characters in a story should do they same; they are meant to be 'real' people after all. At the beginning they will believe certain things, have certain ideas and preconceptions about things, and will act in certain ways. By the end some of those things will have changed. Perhaps not massively, but they will still have become different to what they were at the beginning.

To me character development is the way in which you show that change. How you describe and show the different attributes of their personality at different times. Is it believable? Do the changes they undergo make sense? Those are the sort of things you should look at.
I'm not saying that good depiction of character growth and change in a book isn't, sometimes, a terrific thing, I'm saying that this isn't what I interpret the phrase "character development" to mean.
 

hopewrites

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

I would say it is both it because it references how the character in question is developed in the given piece. The how being "how the character is gotten across" but the "development" can refer to both growth or stasis.
We must remember that story telling (and that is what good writing does, tell a story) is an ancient form of both art and communication where in an idea is expressed by the teller and absorbed by the hearer(s). The lasting ideas tell stories about life, how to live it, how not to live it. These ideas often get mired in moral debate (a sure sign that the story was a success) because of the way they make people question what is/was/will be ect.

If one is being critiqued on one's character development there should be clear delineations as to what part of that development is under scrutiny;
is the character flat- mono-dimensional? -the reader in question fails to connect with this character and ether needs to in order for the story to work, or there is just enough there for them to like and they WANT more for the character to work better for them.
is there a lack of growth? -the reader in question feels that the character needs to grow for the story to work. Not all characters need to grow. Moral lessons can be given by static characters, these are harder to get across because of our love of growth; in others, in characters, if not in ourselves.
does the narrative pull back from character development too often? -the reader here is asking for more show and less tell on the specified character. Yes their dog just died, we expect they would be sad, dont tell us about it, show us how to deal with that sadness, if not how to deal with it well then how dealing with it poorly leads to problems.

The reader is asking for someone they can relate to, a map for how to deal (or how not to deal) with the problems they face in life. I prefer to find my self in fiction, the grandiosty of it appeals to my sense of self. Hence my "self-help" authers are T.H. White, J.R.R. Tolkin, Rawn, McCaffrey, C.S. Lewis, (Kate) Elliott... I've yet to open an X for Dummies book, or Chicken Soup for Y because my taste doesnt run that way.

It is my opinion that fiction authors are more honest than others because they are willing to say right up front "What I didnt know, I made up." To me, this makes their writings MORE true, not less.
 

AnyaKimlin

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Re: What is "character development" and why am I confused and slightly angry about it

Miss Marple is my favourite character and she goes through very little development.

Personally, I think character development is merely the interaction between the story and the character.
 

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