I am a firm believer in strong character development. Looking back over my work, I realize now that the best character I ever created was one that came to me in the middle of the night two long decades ago. The moment I set his name down on paper, I knew I had something truly special and there was no way that anyone would ever be able to duplicate him. Almost immediately I realized that he had been a part of me all along, and was in fact a combination of the best parts of me and the best parts of those around me. I began to pour my heart into turning him into a character that others wouldn’t soon forget.
Over the years I’ve continued to work on his development. Instilling in him the traits I wanted him to have–traits that I knew would make people fall in love with him–has been a sometimes miraculous and sometimes tedious task. I wrote him into stories that weren’t always happy. Sometimes they were filled with such challenges that it broke my heart to put him through them just to develop a little more character in him. At times I lost faith in my ability to turn him into what I knew he could be, but I’ve always managed to surprise even myself and find the right way to get him there. Character development isn’t just as simple as saying this person is going to be this way and do these things. It’s giving a solid reason for those traits to be there in the first place.
I made a point to write into him my quirky sense of humor and it was then, in amazement, that I watched as that trait began to transform into a voice all his own. He was still my creation, but he was becoming his own presence. With so much time and effort spent developing his character, it was my hope that someday he would become so independent of me that, while I was still the original author, he would soon begin to write most of the passages himself. I was finally beginning to witness it, to see his evolution into something beyond me. It took time for me to adjust when he became so separate from me, but I eventually did and was amazed to find that this new and unexpected character he had become still held onto those traits that I had initially given him. I was still the original author, and I took pride in my accomplishment.
That’s what character development is all about, breathing such life into a character that you create something that ends up going far beyond your expectations and hopes. It’s about creating a character that takes what you’ve given him and then takes on a life of his own, building on himself until he is so obviously independent of you, yet still very much a part of you. It is watching him grow beyond you, yet feeling such satisfaction in the knowledge that it was within your heart and hard work that he first began to exist.
Two decades ago, I created the best character of my life.
His name is Zach, and he’s my son.