Character development and stress

Dwight Swain made a point in Techniques of the Selling Writer that is a truth which endures today.

How do you shape development of your characters?

Stress is the formative factor, the thing that makes or breaks a man.

So, plunge your people into conflict. Let pressure strip away the gloss and reveal them as they really are.

No matter how much writing styles have changed through the years, this still holds true for all characters. Conflict and stress is what reveals their personalities to your reader.

A character who seems rather two-dimensional can often be fleshed out more by putting him in an extreme situation. What are your character’s hot buttons? What are his fears? What are his weaknesses? Slam him with one of them in a difficult scene.

Readers tend to root for the underdog, so putting pressure on your character can add to her appeal. Pressure can reveal more about the character’s inner depths and motivations as the character reacts to the conflict, which helps the reader understand her better.

Do your characters seem flat? Put them in a hard place and let them act.