What’s a novel without a cast of characters? What’s a novel without a cast of well-developed and relatable characters? Characters often carry the plot on their shoulders. So, let’s discuss writing characters in a way that can help give them a boost.
How Important Are Characters In A Story?
I don’t think I need to explain this one too in-depth. Without characters, there is no story. You can have a plot, but who will carry out that plot if the world is empty of living creatures or races?
Not to mention, why would your readers read your book? Without characters, your readers will have no one to follow on the journey. They won’t be able to relate or fall in love with fictional beings.
But are characters simply present enough?
What Is Character Development?
Where there are characters, there should be character development. Character development is the craft of building a character’s personality and motivations. It also refers to the growth a character will go through from the novel’s beginning to the end.
As mentioned before, without characters, there would be no story. Depending on how relatable a character is, what their motivations are, and how they deal with both internal and external conflict, character development can help boost the plot.
So, having a cast of characters in the story is not enough. They need to have motivation. They need to have a purpose. They need to be required at some point within the narrative.
How To Develop Any Character
Before we get into the heart of character development, I want to mention that every character in the story should undergo some change.
Sure, there are minor characters that you won’t even need to mention their name, but they should serve a purpose. Otherwise, what are they doing there?
With that said, keep in mind that developing a main character or protagonist differs from developing a villain or antagonist. It’s also different from developing a secondary character or sidekick.
For instance, a protagonist should have a complete narrative arc. In addition, they should have changed or grown by the end of the story.
However, they should also be given some flaws. Remember, no one is perfect, not even fictional characters. You don’t want to create a Mary Sue or Gary Stu character.
On the other hand, the antagonist should have a backstory and some mortality. Even if you or the readers disagree, your antagonist must believe in their actions and why. They need depth too, or why are they bothering to go up against the main character?
In addition, your antagonist should be powerful in some way. You don’t want it to be too easy for your main character to defeat the said antagonist. It should be a challenge and put the readers on edge.
Finally, secondary characters (whether on the good or bad guy’s side) must have some personality and say in the matter. Why are they with the villain or main character? What are their beliefs?
A secondary character can be a sidekick, best friend, family member, potential romantic partner, or anything in between. They should be complementary but also have opposing views sometimes.
These characters should keep the rest of the cast on their toes, see things differently (even if just for a moment), and bring something to the table.
6 Tips For Character Development
Now that we know the importance of character development and who we should develop within our stories, how exactly do we create that character development? First, let’s dive into some tips and tricks on the topic.
Choose A Point-Of-View
No, a point-of-view doesn’t tie directly to your character. However, the POV you choose to write your story can determine how much information is revealed through the characters.
For example, first-person means the story’s narrator is your main character. The readers will be able to read their thoughts, and your protagonist will be in every scene of the book. The pronouns “I” and “me” are used throughout.
Next, there’s the third person. This POV is when the author is the narrator, using pronouns “he” or “she” or “they” throughout the story, talking about the characters from afar.
There are two types of third-person: limited and omniscient.
Limited occurs when the narrator closely follows one specific character. It’s usually the protagonist, but it can be any character. (Think Watson from Sherlock Holmes.)
Omniscient is when the narrator can be anywhere at any time and knows everything about the story and the characters.
Third-person omniscient is more god-like, while third-person limited is as if the narrator is the shoulder angel of a specific character.
Finally, there’s the second-person POV, which is less commonly seen. It uses the pronoun “you” as the reader is spoken to directly by the narrator.
It’s easy to develop a character and get to know them when you’re directly inside their head. For example, your readers can see your protagonist’s thought process from start to finish about their decisions if you write in first-person narrative.
However, if you write in third-person limited but follow the secondary character, the reader will be just as confused as that character when the main character decides out of the left field. (And the reasoning behind that random decision will be revealed to them later!)
Establish Motive And Goals
Why is the character going on this journey? Why is it important to them? Did they decide to go on this quest because they wanted to or had to?
Motivation will drive the characters forward, thus moving the plot along. It also gives the plot a purpose.
These goals may not always be clear to the readers immediately, and that’s okay. But it should be revealed at some point within the story to help the readers connect with the characters.
Avoid Info Dumping
If you’re a pantser, you may not know much about your character until you write the story. But if you’re a planner, you probably made a character template sheet. So you’ll know the ins and outs of your character like the back of your hand.
If that’s the case, then you’ll need to decide what information from that sheet is essential for the readers to know.
I know you worked hard on that profile, but your readers won’t need to see every bit of detail.
Once you realize what your readers need to know, you’ll need to place that information throughout the narrative strategically.
It’s dull when a story reads, “Mary Sue was a five-foot young woman in her late 20s, attending a culinary arts school.”
If her height is essential, you can reveal that much better. The same goes for her age. If her attending culinary arts school is necessary to the plot, you can reveal it by showing Mary Sue in class.
Utilize Internal And External Conflict
External conflict is when the protagonist is fighting outside sources, such as the antagonist. Internal conflict is when they’re struggling with their own decisions or morals.
Outside (or inside) forces can drive many difficult decisions or actions from your characters.
Give Your Characters Personality And Physical Traits
While you should avoid info-dumping, the occasional line of description here and there will go a long way. Fictional characters should be treated as real.
No one is perfect. No one is the “best” at something. Everyone is battling some sort of battle. Everyone loses their way at some point. Maybe they find their way back on their own or have excellent support from their family or friends (the secondary characters).
Physical traits are also essential for readers to see your characters as they read.
In addition, this also pertains to describing the setting around them. For example, if your character is on a long trek through the forest, do they stop to appreciate the nature around them? Or are they afraid of every creak of the trees and the buzz of insects?
Reveal Your Characters’ Past And Backstory
Everyone has a history, and that includes fictional characters. So whether you’re writing the main character, villain, or secondary character, they should have a backstory.
The past should reflect the character as a person and tie in with the current plot. Remember, your character wasn’t born “yesterday” and decided to go on a journey the next day. There should be meaning and a reason behind it.
How Do You Develop A Character?
Before you develop a character, you’ll need to create one. You can do so by creating a character profile. Whether you are a planner or pantser, you should keep notes of all of your characters. Then, as you write your novel, you can develop your character based on what you know about them and what events occur in the story.
- Podcast Playlist: Characters
- Article: How To Write A Big Cast Of Characters
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.
1 thought on “6 Simple Tips You’ll Need About Writing Characters”
Awesome article Rachel and thanks for sharing a link to my post.
Motives and goals are so important for characters, otherwise, you just have random people wandering about aimlessly and who wants that?
PS: not sure if there were imagery in this post, I couldn’t see any but there are a few large white spaces in the midst of the text, just an FYI