I was talking with a friend about writing and the complexities of character development suddenly hit me.
We are all on a journey and will be affected by positive and negative events… yes, even those of us who are blessed with good fortune. These experiences shape who we become. With this in mind, since our adventure forms us, shouldn’t it be the same for our characters? Sure, some genres need strong character development more than others, but that doesn’t change the fact that any character can only benefit from the author putting extra work into developing their journey. We’ve all read/ watched/ played a good story with a protagonist or villain who is either underwhelming or does something completely out of character for them.
To avoid falling into these pitfalls, here are a few things that you could consider when writing your characters.
Remember, you can make notes to plan out your character bios that include likes, dislikes, motivations, and descriptors, but don’t overdo it because these notes are only for you as the writer. Also, remember the planning shouldn’t be as long as the story; it is just a reference tool.
All the characters in your story, even the side characters, are essential and can have a character arc throughout the story via ‘sub-plots’ and intersections with the main character’s arc.
Personality-wise, backstories can help show how a character turned into the person you see on the page. Sometimes, you can even show some mannerisms specific to certain characters, or some likes and/ or dislikes of the individual. After all, their mannerisms and hobbies make them who they are!
Ask your characters questions. This is a weird process, but once you have the character set up, an odd method of getting into their head can be to imagine how you think the character would react to certain situations. For example, would they realistically commit a particular act, or doesn’t it jive with the other actions? What are their motivations that would lead them to acting the way they do? Imagine asking them ‘why’, as it will help shape your understanding of the character, their goals, and even reveal some cool backstory elements that can enhance your story.
Remember, the easiest thing to do, especially when starting to create a character, is often to draw inspiration from people you know. Nothing beats the inspiration of real life.
Last but not least, beta readers are the most important thing; a development editor could also tell you if there is a problem with any your character(s). A friend or family member could help to some extent, but not as reliably.
Common issues with characters are:
Characters acting in certain ways to advance the plot, instead of with their own motivations. Remember that your characters should drive the plot, not the other way around. If you find your character ‘randomly’ encountering a situation, or acting in some abnormal way just to advance the plot, this is plot convenience and it can break a reader’s immersion.
Characters not having their own ‘voice’; this is to say your characters are too similar on the page and some may be unnecessary to the story. Keep in mind, if too many characters are all serving the exact same function, you can often combine them into one.
Characters being too bland. If the reader doesn’t understand why a character exists, it’s because the character may be underdeveloped and can use some work to make them stand out and contribute their essence to the plot.
These are some of the things I, as a writer find helpful to consider, and they can hopefully lead you to write engaging characters and great stories to enrich your readers.
Written by Dennis Scheel
Dennis Scheel has always had stories running in his head but was unable to tell them until after his accident, which left him mute and paralyzed on his right side. After he worked his way back through recovery, he wanted to try to tell his story once more after an acquaintance told him he was talented at writing poetry. Prior to that, his ex had convinced him not to write for ten years by insisting that he had no aptitude for writing. This time, Dennis tried writing his stories in English for the first time. Finally, he succeeded, and has never stopped writing since. The effort has produced three stellar novels:
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