character development in writing

What is Character Development: 5 Tips for Writing Great Characters

Any great story is not just a story of major events, immense struggles, and a happy ending. It becomes great because of those major events happening to the characters, their struggles, their actions, and their resolutions.

What is character development
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Exciting twists and turns in the story can make the story interesting and engaging to read, but the characters are what put the soul in the story. Great character development makes the characters strong, memorable, and knowable.  

Before we learn how we can do strong character development, let us find out what Character Development is.

What is Character Development?

When a character undergoes changes as a result of his/her own actions and experiences, as the story progresses, that is called character development. Personally, I believe the character development of Melanie in M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts was the most remarkable development in the entire story, alongside Dr. Caldwell’s, Sergeant Parks. 

Character development does not mean that the character has to undergo a visible change in personality. It means how the character’s actions affect his/her own life, what implications does the character’s experience bring in on the character herself as the story unfolds further. 

Put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens.

Stephen King

So, at one time in your story, it’s the character who begins to write his own story and not the writer. It’s his personality that becomes so profound that the writer cannot stop being mesmerized by him/her and allow himself to explore further into the character’s persona. The character is developed to a point where the writer does not know his/her destiny anymore. 

Why is Character Development Important?

Character development is not just important, it’s what keeps the story going. A story is about what happens to a certain person, what his actions are, what his reactions are, and how those reactions will impact his/her own life. 

A character has his own motivations, hobbies, a personality with which the readers can relate. He has his own fears. A character does something either out of fear or to face the fear, either out of love or sheer jealousy. These emotions are going to influence his actions, and those actions are going to define him. As the story moves forward, the character becomes older, wiser, more cautious, and/or more open. 

It becomes essential for you as a writer to know and understand all these aspects of your character(s) which will further guide you into how they will react under certain situations and conditions. This is the sole reason why character development is important. 

How does Character Development Influence the Story?

By establishing what the character values and desires the most, and how he is going to achieve it. Maybe your character is trying to save himself from going broke, maybe he/she is trying to clear a competitive exam but the family conditions are not allowing him/her to focus. Maybe your character wants to build something that he has always dreamed of. 

Your character’s objectives are what are going to set the stakes in your story. These objectives, purposes, goals should be well relatable for the reader so that they find themselves engaged in unfolding how the character is going to attain his/her goals. 

Character Development is what will either make the story or break it. It is what will transform your story in a way that makes it captivating. As a writer, all you need to accomplish is to give your character something to fight for. 

5 Tips on How to Develop A Character Your Readers Won’t Forget

This point will contain a process of character development, and by the end of it, you will have a three-dimensional and completely actualized character. The character development is going to be internal as well as external, and each step of the process will build the character in depth. 

1.  Reveal your Character’s Physical Detail: 

Make your characters physically more vivid. Enlighten your character’s eyes, clothing, the color of their hair, the limp they have in their right leg, the scar on their forehead, the kind of spectacles they wear. 

Feed your readers with a bit less than extensive detail of their physical appearance. If you show your readers how your character looks, they are going to know them on a personal level. Besides their physical appearance, focus on the following details:

  • Mannersrims: How do they stand when they are alone and in a company? How they walk? Do they walk with longer strides? Or are their steps sluggish? Do they move their hands while talking? Is your character confident before a new person? Is he bold to speak on any particular subject? Do they frown a lot? Do they scratch their stubble when they are thinking something? Do they massage their knees when they are stressed?
  • Voice: How do they sound? Does their voice have an accent? Does their sound match their personality? 
  • Tics: Do they have any tics? What do they do when they are nervous? Do they get exhausted when they are talking about personal issues? Do they have a habit of smoking when they are tensed or stressed? What is their favorite cuss word? Do they even cuss? 

All these details will make your character more human, more realistic, and more relatable. 

2.  Establish the Character’s story, goals, and motivations: 

Your character’s goal is one of the major reasons your story exists. It’s a story of your character’s objective to achieve that particular thing and the struggles he has to face during the journey. Take a look at a few examples of a character’s goals:

  1. Harry Potter’s goal is to defeat Voldemort (Harry Potter series)
  2. Layla’s goal is to be free and be with Tariq (A Thousand Splendid Suns)
  3. Melanie’s goal is to save her teacher Ms. Justineau (The Girl with All the Gifts) 
  4. Macbeth’s goal is to become the King (Macbeth) 

Besides these goals, all these characters had their fears and motivations. They had those emotions which we as readers could well relate. They had their reasons to desire certain things. Ask yourself what makes them happy and what they will do to want to be happy. So, the first step is to define:

  • what he loves or desires the most, 
  • what he wants to achieve, 
  • What risks he is willing to take to achieve his goal,
  • whom and/or what he fears the most, 
  • what his motivation to attain his goals are. 

Once you are able to answer these questions, you will have built the inner personality of the character. All the answers will then define your character. 

3.  Give your Character an External and Internal Conflict: 

You want your characters to be memorable, interesting, flawed, and deserving. And without internal and external conflicts, your character won’t be any of the above. Think of how you can make them interesting: 

Are they quirky? Are they different from the people around them? Did they have a rough childhood? Do they hate someone to death? What kind of job do they have? Do they have the tendency to kill someone? What terrifies them the most? What screams uniqueness in their appearance? Are they obsessed with something? 

All these questions will define both internal and external conflicts of your character. These conflicts will further help you in designing how they are in the present times. And this practice will make them interesting, engaging, and memorable. 

Besides this, you can make your character have internal monologues: it is one of the best ways to show the conflict of your character. It not only unveils your character’s personality but is also a way to convey information about the other characters and events. 

4.  Make your characters flawed, but give them strengths too: 

Both the strengths and flaws are going to define your character more, on an intimate level. What happens to the character will become all the more profound on the basis of how the character responds to it. His strengths may lead him to respond in an inspiring, admirable manner. His flaws may drive the situation more insane than it could possibly be. 

For example, Harry Potter was both brave and loyal but he was also adamant and incautious which has managed to put himself and his friends in danger. 

In another example, Amir, in The Kite Runner, was intelligent and smart but was also appeared selfish and spiteful before he grew up. 

All those qualities brought us, as readers, closer to them on a personal level where we sympathized with them, hated them, loved them, and cried for them. Your characters are anything like a real person. Imperfect, flawed, good, or bad. And this is what makes them alive, intense, and tangible. 

5.  Give your characters the right skills: 

Imagine Harry Potter with no skill of flying or Hermoine with no intellect. These characters are forever cherished and without these skills, they’d be nowhere near memorable and loveable.

Give them a set of skills they will use to function in the given setting of your story. 

If your story’s setting is early 19th century in Europe, your character might know how to paint or write poems or play the piano. If your story is set in the ancient war times, your character might know how to use a sword. 

Make those skills relevant and suitable for the story, or make your characters learn those skills. For example, if your novel is set in the desert, make sure your character knows how to ride a camel or make him learn how to. 

This 5-step process of character development will bring out a multi-dimensional character with a personality, nature, and complete life. 

I am going to provide you with a list of questions (consider it a cheat sheet) with the help of which you can begin to build a character arc. 

1.What is the name of your character?
2.What is their gender?
3. What is their age? When is their birthday?
4. How do they look?
5. Where do they live?
6.What do they dress like?
7. What do they eat?
8.Do they like to impress?
9. Do they have a traumatic memory? What incident or accident or tragedy was traumatic for them?
10.Do they have a rough childhood? What had happened in their childhood?
11. Do they have pets?
12.Do they smile a lot?
13. Do they have a job? Does the job pay them well? Are they happy with their job? Is their boss nice? What kind of job do they have? 
14.Do they have any passion? Dreams? Desires?What are they? What are they working for? Are they working hard for what they want to achieve? Do they know their dreams? Are they aware of their passion?
15.Are they in love? Whom do they love? How are they as a lover? Are they obsessive? Are they possessive? Are they gentle? Are they jealous? Are they toxic? Are they kind-hearted?
16. Do they have any medical conditions? Are they on medication? Do they take their medicines on time? Are they on drugs?
17. Do they have any friends? What are their friends like? Do they spend most of their time with them? Are they lonely? Are they good at making friends? 
18. What are their hobbies? What do they like to do in their free time? What are their skills? Are they learning something new? Do they like to learn?
19. What are their fears? Is there anyone that terrifies them the most? Is there anything they are majorly afraid of? Do they have any phobia?
20. What is that they are most embarrassed about? Do they get embarrassed easily? Do they feel guilty of anything?

Above drawn table is a go-to list for you to design your character on an intimate basis. The answers to these questions will be realistic for your readers to find them relatable. And you can easily build your character based on these answers. 

Writing Task for Character Development (1): How to write Character Description

Use the following tips while writing your character description: 

  • Don’t go for a “Her name is Mia and she is 34 years old”. Instead, make it like this “Her friends called her M at the pizzeria she was working. She looked fitter than most women of her age; toned arms, flat belly, and the roundest pair of breasts anyone had ever seen.” 
  • Pick a detail from your character’s appearance and weave a backstory around it, revealing more about their past. Example: The scar on Amy’s forehead only throbbed when a war scene played before her reminding her of the horrors she had faced in the concentration camps before she had escaped.
  • The Place they feel most comfortable. It could be anywhere- bedroom, their workplace, their dead kid’s room, their bathroom, their newly refurbished house, etc. and then describe them there. 

Writing Task for Character Development (2): How to Write their Internal Monologues

Take into consideration the following tips during character development:

  • Use the first person while writing the internal monologue. 
  • Show the world around alongside showing how they are looking at the world.
  • Have them mentally fight with themselves before having them do something stupid or bold or immature or surprising.
  • Have them speak to themselves while going before a person they despise or love or hate or admire. 

Winding Up

Your characters are not what they are when they started out. It’s who they become at the end of the story. It’s their growth, the changes in them, and the difference between who they were and who they are. This is what character development is. 

More to add? Curious to know more? Leave us comments and feedback! We’ll be happy to hear you out and help! 

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