What About Character Development?

I’ve talked about this a lot. Fiction writers all have the same goal … to transport their readers inside the pages so they feel like they’re walking along as a part of the story.

Memorable characters are an extremely important part of making that happen. In fact, they should drive the story. Mine do it so well they sometimes argue with me.

So how does one develop effective, memorable characters?

Not every character merits equal attention. Of course, when you don’t devote enough time to him you get a one-dimensional character. It may be okay if his role isn’t very significant.

But if it is significant, trust me, that character needs to be fleshed out.

His actions should make sense with his role. To become believable and memorable, he should behave in ways that are consistent with how you’ve developed him.

If a character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, your readers will notice it. Inconsistency will jar them. In fact, it will probably jar them right out of the story.

Don’t Make Your Characters Perfect
It’s also hard to empathize with a perfect person. Perfection doesn’t exist in real life. The fictional characters we create need to feel like real people and everyone, no matter how noble, is flawed in some way. Learn to capitalize on those flaws.

Plus, if you don’t have a firm picture of each character in your own mind, they’re going to be shaky on the page.

That being said, there’s a tendency for some writers to throw too much at the reader all at once … to give a full physical description, tell the life story, and reveal the innermost thoughts of a character as soon as he is introduced.

But that’s not the best approach.

The Devil is in the Details
Think about each character you’re creating. The reader is undoubtedly meeting him for the first time. When you first introduce him, you should certainly include a few details, but his personality and motivation should be revealed gradually through his actions.

Just like real life, observing him interacting with others is how we really get to know him.

Base Characters on Real People
Some writers think this is cheating, but I do it all the time. I take a character and give him the personality of someone I know (either real or from observation). I create (for myself) a short biography of each character and then imagine what he would do in a “what if” question that’s the heart of most of my stories.

As I mentioned before, I like to observe human behavior … how they talk, their mannerisms, what they wear, their attitudes and body language. I incorporate all of that into my writing.

Everybody Has a History
Where we came from shapes us and molds us. And, even if you don’t reveal your characters’ past to your readers, you, as the author, should know about it. You should have full biographies of your main characters in your mind so you understand what drives them.

Why is this important?

Because if you don’t completely understand a character, your readers won’t either.

Don’t Neglect Secondary Characters
Sidekicks can be some of the most interesting characters in the story. They’re often the readers’ favorites … sort of like the supporting instruments in a symphony. Every one serves a purpose.

I hear other authors tell me the villain is their favorite character, the one they love to write about. Bad guys can be very tough to do well, and it can be even tougher to get readers to empathize with them. So, whenever you write about a villain, keep in mind that he needs to be just as well-developed as your main characters.

He should have redeeming characteristics, just like your heroes will have flaws.

Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” is a great example. He was one of my favorite characters in the story, even though he’s not a hero. Poor Gollum is obviously ruled by evil most of the time, but he’s also a well-drawn victim. We empathize with him, and feel sorry for him.

He is a great antagonist. We have hope for him … we wish he could be redeemed. A moment later we loathe and despise him all over again, and wish somebody would squash him like a bug, because he’s so annoying. Characters like this can be among the most difficult to create, but they are also some of the most satisfying.

Your readers will stay with you to the end of the journey, if you just remember, better characters make better stories.

* * * * *

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

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You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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13 Responses to “What About Character Development?”

  1. Sunayna Prasad Says:

    Great advice. I love learning about character development. I didn’t know a lot of people found the villains to be their favorite characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Hackstock Says:

    Always interesting to read your blog…even a non – writer can enjoy learning from your insights on how to accomplish good writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bobby Fairfield Says:

    Reblogged this on Writing, events, competitions and even some self-penned bits and commented:
    Reflect upon the characters in stories you have read and compare with this advice, it rings true.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bobby Fairfield Says:

    Enjoyed this, characterisation is the key, some might say, characters certainly help a story and with your advice, more so.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ron Herron Says:

    Thanks, Bob. What kind of things do you write?


  6. Bob Wonnacott Says:

    Great guidance as always! Thanks so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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