Most readers might think that the plot of a story is the most difficult and important thing to nail down for a writer. In some cases, that is true...writer's block is in fact a very real thing. A writer will often go months without a visit from their muse before finally being flooded with inspiration.
It's a genuine handicap that all writers must bear.
However, sometimes it's the characters and not the plot that prove problematic to an author. Some take shape easily in an almost organic way, while others require more concentration and thought. Then, there are the characters who take on lives of their own and completely evolve into something different from what the author originally planned.
I myself can draw from a personal experience that happened a mere two days ago. I was making notes for my next book while listening to one of my playlists, when a song about pirates began playing. Instantly, my brain was flooded with backstory and little factoids that I decided to use on a character that I was in the process of developing. However, in spite of the fact that all the information I was adding to the character profile (something I highly recommend doing so you don't lose track of anything important in regards to any given character), I couldn't help but feel that the character simply wasn't quite right. She was good, make no mistake, but she just wasn't quite there yet. So, after sitting and staring at my computer screen for about an hour without avail, I got up to get a drink. In that moment, a line of dialogue floated through my head and prompted me to take all the information and backstory that I had been trying to fit into the previous character and instead use it to create a completely different character that will end up playing an extremely vital role in my second novel. What happened to the other character I was working on? Don't worry about her. I still have plans for her…just not in this particular book.
Where am I going with this?
I suppose the bedrock of my point is that while they might simply appear to be nothing more than words on a page, characters can be just as alive as any flesh and blood person. They evolve and they grow just like we do. Just when you think that you have a character figured out, they turn around and surprise you. Nothing about them is set in stone. It can't be. Otherwise, the characters become stagnant and don't contribute to the advancement of the plot. Every character in a story has a part to play, and it's up to you, the writer, to ensure that they get a chance to play it.
Is the character meant to make it to the end of the story and share in the protagonist’s victory?
Or is the character merely a catalyst that appears for only a short while in order make your protagonist evolve and advance within the story?
Both roles are vital. Just because a character doesn't make it to the end of the story, does not make him or her any less important in the grand scheme of things. Keeping this in mind, we as writers must never short-change any characters that float through our minds. We must give them each the proper amount of attention and take the time to flesh them out. After all, what starts out as a simple, throwaway character could very easily become a keystone to developing an idea later on in the story. This applies even to those characters that might be kicking around inside your head right now. You might not have a use for them at this particular moment in time, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a need for them later.
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