And Now for Something Completely Different...
The Ogre Prince, a young adult fantasy, is the first novel I published. Written for my three children, when they were in their early teens, it wasn't published for another decade. The story follows Ogre, a fourteen-year-old orphan who is a servant in the King's household. Ogre constantly finds trouble, even when he isn't looking for it, and is eventually banished from the household and apprenticed to the terrifying royal Hunt Master; the Hunt Master's apprentices seem to die on the royal hunts with some regularity. Ogre begins to find his way and is delighted to be included on the hunt for a real Ogre, until he is captured by the foul beast.
Ogre discovers a world that is much more complex and textured than the one he saw as a servant in the King's household. He realizes his own values are different than those imposed upon him as a servant and is forced to stand up in defense of others, even though no one stood up for him when he needed help. In this journey, Ogre finds himself on the wrong side of the law and caught up in a burgeoning civil war with an unlikely ally: the King's daughter, Princess Caroline.
Both Ogre and Princess Caroline were created the same as any other character, an iterative process in which the characters find themselves. I give them space to make their way in the world they inhabit, and follow along at a distance, hoping not to influence them too greatly. I realize that might sound improbable - how do characters realize themselves, it's not like they are alive.
To me, and hopefully to the reader, they are alive. I want them to be as real as the person sitting next to you on the bus or at an airport. I want their actions and decisions to be as real as those of the friends you worry about, whose judgement you secretly question. Then, as a reader, you'll care and become emotionally attached to what happens to them.
In this case, however, I also wanted Ogre and Princess Caroline to be strong role models, not limited by their gender or age or status, except as they would have been in that world, and they needed to be strong enough to fight against those limits. In other words, I didn't want my perspective to limit them in any way.
That becomes a huge issue in character development in any work. Am I aware enough of my own unconscious biases to avoid them when I write? They're called unconscious for a reason. Having a trusted reader who can call you out when scatter your own BS throughout a manuscript is a must. Listening to their feedback helps a lot as well.
Ogre is a striver who deals with all of the things we face when we put ourselves forward into new spaces. Like so many of us, he suffers from Imposter's Syndrome, so sure he doesn't belong in certain spaces that he risks failure and needs to hear from others that he belongs. It takes courage to step forward, but it is a different kind of courage to be the person who says, "You've got this, and I'll be here at your side to support you."
Let's all find someone to support that way.