We all have things about us that we don’t notice in ourselves – a bluntness that is not perceived with the honest intention we might have intended, a funny story we thought we were sharing in a spirit of light-heartedness but that caused a loved one embarrassment, the ability to focus and complete a project ahead of a deadline at the risk of dismissing the ones we love too easily.
These nuances of us are the kinds of things we need to work into our characters for them to come across as real people. I have a couple tips for how to work these blind spots into character development.
Be Mindful of a Character’s Backstory
Whether it’s “You can’t go home again” or “No man puts his foot in the same river”, the bottom line is that people change from who they once were. If a character is moving to a new school or trying to go back to a reunion, if a long-forgotten crush reenters your character’s life or have an eye opening experience that allows a character to see the changes in a spouse or long-term partner, characters will often encounter experiences that make them re-evaluate the changes in them or in others. It might be a gradual realization or a conversation that is jarring, but it can often have a trickle effect on that character’s emotional arc.
Consider the Character’s Personality or Aptitude
There are several different ways to come up with this, with Myers-Briggs being a big of the darling right now. Both people who are introverted and extroverted have a tendency to have limited awareness about the other – the same can be said for those who gravitate to thinking through a situation and those who respond emotionally before cognition takes hold. People driven versus task driven, mindful of time and schedule versus troubleshooting problems as they come, each personality and aptitude brings strengths that are counterbalanced by often unperceived weaknesses.
Remember That Blindspots Lead to Boundaries
If a character was publicly mocked for being too dumb or too smart, for being plain or extraordinary, for stating and opinion or being too quiet, he may decide to either withdraw or exploit the perception. That kind of experience can continue to have a ripple effect with the character intentionally advancing in a particular direction or accidentally avoiding a situation. These unseen fences can transition into barriers put around a character which can be enhanced into walls that a person uses maintain a persona or prevent a repeat embarrassment.
Whether they are children or adults, characters, like us, all have blindspots that impact their interactions with others and their perceptions of themselves. If we can hone in on the nuances of this kind of blindness in character development, we have a greater likelihood of creating well-balanced characters that intrigue and engage our readers.
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.