Character development is crucial to creating a good story, unless your goal is to have flat characters who don’t appeal to your readers. Learning how to develop a character can be tricky, which is part of the reason writers are always encouraged to read, read, read as part of learning the craft of writing.

Reading, however, is not the only way to witness or even experience how other authors develop characters. TV shows often have excellent character development over the run of a series. A recent example that comes to mind is a new show on CBS, Elementary, a show about a modern-day Sherlock Holmes and his side-kick Watson.

In this series, Watson is played by actress Lucy Liu, a slight divergence from the traditional British male Watson we know from the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Though the series has only a handful of shows under its belt to date, Lucy Liu’s character Watson has already shown much growth.

In the first few episodes, we are given insight into who Watson is, all while she is learning how Holmes gleans clues from what would otherwise appear to be meaningless and arbitrary facts. By the third or fourth episode, we already see Watson learning to apply some of Holmes’ methods in deductive reasoning. I believe we shall see the character continue to grow in both her understanding and respect for Holmes as the series matures.

Watch the ‘baby steps’ this character makes over time, and you will likely witness a subtle but solid growth of the character. You may even gain insight into how to help the characters in your stories grow.

Many professions (e.g. law, medicine) require continuing education of its professionals, justifiably so. After all, who wants to have a doctor whose knowledge of medicine, treatments and diseases is from twenty, ten, or even five years ago?

While continuing education isn’t required for writers, it is nonetheless a smart idea. There are two types of continuing education for writers: 1) Writing related 2) Technology based. Continuing Education in Writing covers any writing class, exercise, research, or connection that expands and improves one’s writing. I won’t cover that subset here, as most writers understand the reason to keep honing one’s writing skills. What many writers don’t consider is the need for continuing education regarding one’s technological skills.

The role of technology in writing

How do you use technology as a writer? Do you stay abreast of all the technological advancements? Ten or fifteen years ago, writers started venturing online, creating their own websites to market themselves, trolling for work on job sites such as Craigslist or Freelancewriting, or learning how to write web copy. What we now consider the ‘basics’ of the internet were at that time new skills we needed to learn to take advantage of a new market. And so, many writers plunged forward, developing their own sites and learning how to write proper web copy for their clients. Searching for jobs online or marketing oneself online are commonplace for many writers now, but they weren’t when the internet was in its infancy.

Blogging

Consider the next progression on the timeline. With the explosion of websites by businesses, the need for content to attract people to their websites exploded tenfold. Content jobs abounded everywhere. Then came the advent of blogs. The concept brought new marketing possibilities and new job opportunities. Now the concept of blogging is so mainstream that many job websites such as Freelancewritinggigs include blogging as a distinct category of writing.

How does one blog to attract as well as retain viewers? How does one promote products and services through a blog? How does one maximize SEO (another technology-based skill writers need to learn if they’re writing for the web)? Of course there’s nothing saying a writer needs to know anything about blogging, but not staying current with the technology limits the writer’s potential for new jobs, and may even risk the loss of current clients, if those clients want a writer who knows how to blog. Blogging was, and remains, nothing more than another technological facet of a writer’s continuing education. Blogging is not a necessity for writing, but rather a new skill to be learned and mastered if a writer wants to stay current and competitive in an existing market.

Social Media

That brings us to present day technological advances… Social Media. More and more writing jobs are not just asking for writers savvy in social media, they are requiring it. Do you know the difference between a tweet and a facebook post? Do you understand the value or ‘like’ing and ‘friend’ing? Do you know how to upload pictures, re-tweet, or create buzz in social media? Or do you avoid using social media all together? Yes, it’s the writer’s choice, but the choice impacts the writer’s marketability.

Lessons From the Past

If you’re finding more and more job opportunities for blogging, and secretly wish that you had starting blogging years back so that you’d be current, then you’ve learned the value of staying current with technology. Even if you haven’t yet started a Facebook account, or have no clue what Twitter is, don’t panic. The good new is that it’s never too late to get started. Just like the internet, Social Media is here to stay. Technology is every-changing, and the sooner your start, the faster you’ll catch up.

In conclusion, consider technology another facet, but a vital one, to your continuing education as a writer. Knowing the ins and outs, as well as the potential uses of the various social media sites can make the difference between landing a client or not.

It’s not news that ‘all the good domain names are gone.’ Actually, this isn’t entirely true. As I struggle to find a domain name for my new comic strip, I’ve come across several names that would be great for a site housing a comic strip, but not necessarily for the name of my comic strip itself. Thus, I’ve had to focus on determining exactly what is my goal with regard to the site? Is it to house only my comic strip or other items as well? If I choose a domain name that matches the name of my comic strip, then that’s a definite plus for marketing purposes. But If I choose to expand the site to encompass other comic strips, then the name becomes inappropriate, even limiting.

Let’s assume I decide to name the domain name after my comic strip, but that name is already taken. Do I change the name of the comic strip to match an available domain name. Most definitely not! Choosing a title is similar to choosing a character name… the writer must do what works for the piece, not what’s convenient or even prudent for marketing purposes.

The truth be told, I’m not quite ready to publish my comic strips online, not because of my drawing skills, but because I’m still not sure I’ve chosen the right title. Perhaps that’s not the best thing to admit given the fact that I’ve published an article on how to choose a title.

My problem is tied to the fact that I’m still fleshing out my characters, and my target audience. Do I want to limit my target audience to my original intended group, or go broader? The answer will then dictate, in part, the title I ultimately use. My original target audience is anyone who is Jewish or has had some exposure to Jewish life. The name Kibbitzers would be understood by most, and it’s not a hard word to read or pronounce. Other names under consideration are so mired with various yiddish spellings, that the words may not be obvious, even to those familiar with Yiddish.

So, I’ll continue creating, knowing the answer will come to me in time as I flesh out more of my characters’ back story, and develop their relationships to one another. And until the answer pops into my head (which will likely be when I’m not even remotely thinking about my comic strip), I’ll stick with The Kibbitzers and call it my ‘working title’.

As many writers know, writing is a creative outlet, and it takes many forms. I’ve written sci-fi novels, children’s books, web-site pages, math puzzle books, advertisements, brochures, web copy and a long list of other items over the years (some of these items have been published, others not – such is the life of a writer!). There are creative itches, even within the writing arena, which never go away until confronted, head on. I’ve reached one of those moments where I’ve decided I have nothing to lose by trying something new.

This creative itch of mine – to create a comic strip – has been on the back burner for ages, all because I don’t have a talent for drawing. I recently reminded one of my kids that no one starts out with perfect skills. Any skill, whether a sport, writing, cooking, or the ability to nail wood together without nailing one’s hands to the board comes with practice, practice, and more practice.

Just because my drawing skills are not in the top 5% of the country’s artists (if I’m going to be realistic, I should change that to the top 99%), doesn’t mean I shouldn’t create a comic strip. After all, a comic strip is another creative writing outlet, and the writer in me wants to explore this genre. The tragedy is not when one fails, but when one fails to try.