If you’re a writer, you already know the importance of character development. Even when reading certain stories, some characters just fall flat or do things that make the character unrealistic or sometimes downright boring. There is so much that goes into writing a compelling, entertaining story and character development is right up there at the top of the list.
So, you have a great character idea and story idea – what next? You need to figure out how you want your character to develop within your story, and change or adapt over the course of it. Here are 7 tips concerning character development:
1. Focus on what makes your character Unique
This is especially important for main characters. What makes them unique? What is it about them that makes them worthy to stand at the forefront of your story? Focus on their unique attributes that can either be changed, enhanced or used during the story.
I like to use worksheets or simple bullet points so I can keep my characters straight when it comes to writing them. You’ll want to stay true to who your character is. For example: A shy, cowardly guy in your story could eventually become the hero. It’s the how that matters – what extreme, unique circumstance would cause such a shift in a person’s core character traits? Love or the will to survive would be an answer to that question for that type of character. However, it’s the character’s uniqueness that is key.
Think about the following when identifying what makes your character unique:
- Their goals and motivations
- Their core values/morals/flaws/strengths (overall main character traits)
- Their limits
- Their likes and dislikes
- Any special skills or talents they possess
2. Show who your character is through Dialogue
Dialogue can really show us who a person is depending on how they speak or interact with other characters. For instance, a down-and-dirty drug smuggler is likely to cuss a lot while a conservative, mild-mannered librarian would be less likely to use vulgarity when speaking.
There are many ways to show who a character really is through dialogue. It’s also a great way to show their development with dialogue that would push their buttons, make them get angry or have them speak about their passions.
3. Avoid Traditional Stereotypes
Traditional stereotypes, even when it comes to minor characters, aren’t a good idea. They show what everyone is already expecting and can murder character development. As a good exercise, try to think of anti-stereotypes. Always strive to make the characters you create more than stereotypes. You know, like real people. I have never met a person who falls completely into their stereotypical category.
(Yes, of course, there are examples where traditional stereotypes work, but more often than not – they don’t).
Why not make the seemingly “dumb blonde” incredibly intelligent? Does the high school jock have to be a bully? Think of all the traditional stereotypes out there and either build on them or toss them out the window. Like I said, anti-stereotypes are far more unexpected and more interesting as their character develops throughout the course of a story.
4. Don’t make your characters “Perfect”
Everyone has flaws and a lot of the time – it’s those flaws that make characters likable and more interesting. It also helps the reader relate to characters on a deeper level. There’s good and bad in everyone. Perfect characters are boring and even if the story is great – perfection simply isn’t realistic.
5. A Character’s History
Think of who you were 5 years ago. It’s likely that you have changed somewhat, if not a lot. The same should be true of your characters. Events in our lives shape who we are, what we believe and even our motivations.
Every character you write should have a history. No – you don’t have to do an entire chapter of backstory, (don’t ever overdue a backstory unless it’s relevant to the story you’re telling or important to who the character is/their main motivations).
When thinking about a character’s history, think about the following:
- Loss of loved ones
- Pleasant experiences
- Relationships (First kiss, first love, ect.)
- Relevant experiences that either change or have significant impact
6. Present Challenges
Put obstacles in your character’s way and describe to the reader how your character deals/responds to those challenges. How someone acts in times of turmoil or danger can say a lot about a character.
Intense challenges can also alter the way a character believes or thinks about certain topics and this could lead to a phenomenal character arch. Scare, intimidate and challenge your characters. Their actions say a lot about who they are and what they are willing to do.
7. Allow your Characters to Surprise or Shock the reader
Think about people you know in real life. We’ve all seen them act completely differently than we would have assumed, right? It’s okay to let your characters surprise your readers with their actions. Like I mentioned, think anti-stereotypes. Make your characters unique and believable but leave room for surprise and shock.
Final Thoughts + Free Worksheet:
Character development can be the difference between a good story, a great story or a bad story. Characters need to be realistic and have room to grow and change throughout the progression of a story. Core values of a character are important, as well as all those unique attributes that make them, them.
Use traits from people you know in real life. Have fun combining character traits and playing with various ideologies. It can be frustrating, but when a great character is created – all the hassle is completely worth it.
Good Luck Writing, Fellow Scribes 🙂