Your Favorite Characters: Why Characters’ Youthful Dreams are Often Relevant

"Know Your Characters: Their Young Ambitions Matter"" (blog post) | |

Looking around online, you may stumble upon infographics and lists that offer questions to help build characters — or offer journaling questions for yourself. Questions from either category can be useful for characterization — but it’s easy sometimes to overlook the why. In the series “Your Favorite Characters,” we’ll look at some of these questions and explore exactly why they matter.

A character’s younger aspirations were is a question mentioned every once in a while, as in this graphic for writers:

If your character is an adult, why do we care?

It’s obvious why a child’s aspirations are important in a children’s book (or an adult book with young characters); but with adult characters, does it matter?

The answer is likely “sometimes.” Let’s take a medieval character named Sir Jaredd. There may be absolutely no reason to dwell on Sir Jaredd’s past ambitions or childhood dreams. But did Sir Jaredd always aspire to become a knight? If so, how did he get there? Did he tread a difficult path, or did it seem easy, as if he were destined for the role?

Or did he absolutely hate the idea of becoming “one of those authority figures”? Was he originally a rebel, and why did he change his mind?

Looking Back from the Present

In the end, there are probably a lot of times when a character’s past aspirations do not need to be mentioned in a story. For example, it didn’t seem necessary in most of the pieces posted up until now on this site and may only have been of importance in “The Missing Servant” if the king somehow had a marred childhood that caused him to inflict his own pain on others — and as a result, wanted to rule over others to do his own evil will. Interestingly, that detail would have created a very different story in which the reader might actually pity the king…maybe.

But is it helpful for the writer to simply know in his or her mind where that character came from, even if it isn’t mentioned in the piece? Absolutely. A huge part of a character’s past is made up of childhood aspirations. Did they follow a certain path, and if not, why? Did someone have a change of heart frequently? Is the character therefore undecided on a lot of things in life — and within the story?

As always, it’s up to the author to decide how much to reveal; but well-rounded characters surely had aspirations when they were young. Didn’t everyone?

Follow Artistically Writing by Email