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        Character Development: 7-Step Guide for Writers

        • calenderOct 19, 2023
        • calender 5 min read

        Have you ever read a book containing such believable characters that they etched a permanent place in your heart? You may have laughed with them, cried with them, and rooted for them while reading the story. Even now, when anyone mentions the book, the first thing that comes to your mind are the endearing characters. That, my friend, is the strength of character development!

        If you are wondering how to develop your characters with an irresistible appeal, we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we have shared seven essential steps that can help you to create vivid and memorable characters. Let’s start with a simple character development definition. 

        Want an error-free novel to engage your readers?

        What is character development?

        Character development refers to creating fictional characters with their personalities, backstories, and motivations. It involves adding details such as traits, and goals and bringing depth to the characters. When you develop a character, you need to ensure that your readers can observe its growth as the story progresses.  

        The key to building a character is to add attributes that can make it feel real and relatable. Ideally, these attributes should go beyond defining the character’s physical appearance. You must define your character in terms of strengths, weaknesses, skills, emotions, motivations, and more.  

        If you explore good examples of character development and different types of characters, you will notice a common quality. Most stories offer a vivid idea of the character at the beginning.

        Consider the example of Aslan’s character from the series The Chronicles of Narnia. The story starts with Aslan being portrayed as a powerful talking lion. His name invokes both wonder and terror in those who hear it. Later in the story, Aslan is shown to be a kind and helpful personality. The readers see him as someone always ready to help others.  

        So, as the story progresses, you get to know about the character’s actions, struggles, experiences, aspirations, and other aspects.

        When you create a character, you need to focus on the details. By fleshing out well-rounded characters, you provide readers with a compelling reason to remain invested in your story.

        Now that we’ve answered the question of what is character development, let’s take a look at how to make a character come alive using the steps mentioned below:

        1. Determine your character’s roles and goals 

        Before exploring how to develop a character, determine your character’s role in your story. It will help you to create a character arc that hits the right notes with your readers. When it comes to etching out a character’s role, think about how it’s going to impact the plot.

        Having a clear idea about the role serves another purpose as well. You can set a goal for your character, which is an important aspect of character development. It paves the way for the story to move forward.

        Example: The character of Hamlet from The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare

        This is one of the classic examples of character development. Hamlet’s goal is to avenge his father’s murder. His attempt to achieve this goal is what drives the entire story forward.

        When you miss out on linking your character’s goal to a motive, you risk your character arc falling flat. If you are wondering how to write your protagonist or an antagonist, first, outline realistic goals for them. Further, provide a solid reason to propel your character to chase the goal.

        2. Allow your characters to be unique and memorable

        While creating characters for your story, begin by giving them interesting names. Ask yourself whether you want a character’s name to be realistic, original, intentional, or simply whimsical. This will help you to make a choice. Ensure that the name you select resonates with the genre of your story.

        Example: The antagonist Malvolio from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, 

        Shakespeare portrays Malvolio as a pompous character with a disagreeable nature. What’s interesting to note is that in Italian, the name Malvolio means ill will. So, the writer suggests the true nature of the character through his name. 

        When you want to make a character unique and memorable, don’t forget to focus on the physical characteristics part as well. Early on, spend some time sketching the physical features of your characters. Think in terms of skin color, hair style, eye color, body shape, mannerisms, and more. Here is a character development example to illustrate this point: 

        Example: The Artful Dodger’s description in Oliver Twist

        “He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short of his age: with rather bow legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes”.

        Through his descriptions, the author sets the stage for the character’s development in the story. If you are dealing with a main character, introduce a distinctive mannerism or character quirk. This will serve as a unique identity trait for your character.    

        3. Develop your characters with strengths and weaknesses

        Giving your characters human qualities, like strengths and weaknesses, should be a part of your character development strategy.

        Your protagonist may have certain flaws and may appear vulnerable. However, it’s important to bring out his/her heroic qualities through well-constructed situations or incidents in the story. The idea is to make sure that regardless of the flaws, your protagonist appears as warm and endearing.       

        If you’re wondering how to write a character with flaws and strengths, note that there’s no set formula. Having said that here are a couple of tips that can help you in creating characters with strengths and weaknesses:

        • Once you outline a character, figure out whether the strengths and weaknesses are acquired or inherited. If inherited, you can trace them back to your character’s family background. If acquired, you can show how the character came to possess them. 
        • Use both strengths and weaknesses to create tension in your plot. But ensure that your readers feel for the character and root for them.  

        4. Create a strong and compelling backstory

        A backstory helps to encapsulate the journey of your character before your story begins. When you create a character, use a strong backstory to etch out its past. This will help you to explain the way your character behaves in your story.

        It’s a good idea to create backstories for all those characters who play important roles in your narrative. Once you do that, it’s up to you whether you share these backstories with your readers or not. But by establishing their backgrounds, you can add depth to the characters.      

        An effective way to create a compelling backstory is to give your character a timeline. You can fill the timeline by adding the main events of your character’s life.  

        Here are a few points that can help you when developing backstories for your characters:

        • Keep the details of your character’s backstory relevant to the main story. They should make sense to the reader.
        • Avoid revealing the past in one go. Otherwise, your readers may become bored. Rather, reveal the backstory gradually to keep the interest alive.
        • You can reveal the backstory using different techniques, like vivid recollections, dialogues, and parallel time frames.  Decide which one works best for your story.

        5. Introduce internal and external conflicts

        Conflicts can easily spice up a narrative, and that’s exactly why they are added. In essence, a conflict means a disagreement. You need to know how to create powerful conflict to steer your story forward.

        You can categorize a conflict into two types: external and internal.

        • External Conflict: It is the conflict that your character has with an outside force, such as another character or nature. Use this conflict to express tension between your characters.
        • Internal Conflict: It is the conflict that your character faces internally. Apply this conflict to make a character fight against their principles or desires.

        Here are some character development examples of internal and external conflicts: 

        Example: Robinson’s character In the novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

        In this novel, the character of Robinson struggles against nature. Shipwrecked on an island during an expedition, Crusoe grapples with difficulties to survive with minimum resources. This is a prominent example of external conflict. 

        Example: Mowgli’s character in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

        In this book,  the character Mowgli struggles to understand where he belongs. He is confused between the jungle and the human world. It is an example of internal conflict.  

        While narrating your story, infuse both internal and external conflicts in it to make it a compelling read.

        So, how to build a character using internal and external conflicts? Check out the tips given below:

        • Use both types of conflicts as obstacles for your characters in reaching their goals.
        • Ensure that the conflicts are appropriate for your characters.
        • Link external conflicts to internal conflicts to heighten the tension in your tale.

        In this context, consider The Old Man and the Sea as an example. In this story, Ernest Hemingway describes the aging fisherman Santiago’s conflict with nature as well as his inner self. He uses the conflicts to take the story forward. 

        To understand how to create a character better, it’s important to know more about developing character arcs. Let’s learn more about this concept in detail. 

        6. Develop a satisfying character arc

        As you proceed on your character development journey, don’t forget to develop a satisfying character arc.

        This arc expresses the growth of your character as your story evolves. It defines the mental, physical, and emotional growth of your character in your narrative.

        • To create a fascinating character arc, introduce a trigger event at the beginning of the story. This event should ideally act as the starting point of your character arc.
        • For building a character, create a scope for your character as the story progresses. For instance, you can allow your character an emotional reaction after an action. It will help your readers to know how your character reacts to changes.
        • As your story heads towards a climax, draw attention to the evolution of your character. By this time, your character should have come a long way from the starting point. Make sure that this journey seems real.  

        Example: Cinderella 

        In this fairytale, the protagonist Cinderella initially faces a lot of struggles and hardships. Her character arc starts developing when she decides to go to the ball. After going through ups and downs, the story ends on a happy note for her. The prince of the land finds her and takes her as his bride. Her character grows from being lonely and helpless to finding love and happiness. This completes her character arc.

        A complete character arc enables you to see how your character has evolved from beginning to end. So, make it a point to create interesting character arcs for your main characters.

        7. Steer clear of lengthy descriptions

        An unsaid rule of character development is to keep lengthy descriptions out of your narrative. When you have to describe something while writing characters, make it crisp and concise.

        Here are a few tips to help you out:

        • Always use those features that tell the most about a character.
        • Focus on the unique details of a character.
        • Use adjectives and metaphors to describe a character.

        With too much description, you risk hampering the flow of your story. This can distract your readers.

        Example: The description of Peter Pan in The Complete Adventures of Peter Pan.

        “He was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that ooze out of trees; but the most entrancing thing about him was that he had all his first teeth.”

        This short description helps the readers to form a nice idea about the character.

        Now that you’ve learned how to build a character, you can use the given tips to create memorable characters. If you require any assistance, you can take the help of our professional novel editing services to get the best results. This will help you write a compelling and engaging narrative that resonates with your readers. 

        Here are some other useful resources you might be interested in:

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        Prasanna Linkedin

        Prasanna is on a little break from academia and spends his time compiling fiction writing tips. He enjoys poetry, mythology, and drawing lotuses on any surface he can find.

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