Character Development: A Guide for Fiction Authors
Are you looking for character development tips? Do you need help creating deep, rich characters for your story? How can you make sure they are complex and yet relatable?
If you’re looking for answers you are not alone. Many fiction authors struggle with character development when they first start writing novels. But fear not!
This article will answer the above questions and more so you can develop dynamic characters that deepen the plot of your story and come alive in the minds of readers.
What Is Character Development?
Character development is the process of making a character compelling through backstory, personality traits, their actions in relation to other characters and the experiences that shape them.
The better developed your character is, the more interesting they’ll come across to readers making your story much more memorable.
How Do You Develop a Character?
The first step to develop a character for your novel is to give them a backstory, as mentioned above. What is a backstory? It’s the narrative that provides your character with a past that makes them who they are and gives their motivations meaning and purpose.
Now, as you begin to communicate this backstory to your audience, you should strive to strike a balance between providing too much information about their past and just enough to support their actions at any given point in your story. You don’t want to reveal too much too soon.
Also, avoid confusing your readers with inconsistencies in your character’s backstory when transitioning from one scene to another. Make sure to carefully map out the timeline throughout your character’s history to their present moment before you start writing.
The second step is to establish the emotional journey your character will need to experience in order to transform from who they are at the beginning of the story to who they’ll become after the climax.
This emotional journey needs to be something that your readers can relate to. If they can’t then they won’t be able to willingly suspend their disbelief and get into your book.
The third step is to figure out the course of events that needs to transpire in your character’s story. This work will help you determine how many details from their past should come into play before you reach the climax of your movel.
Characteristics of a Well-Developed Character
You know you’ve created a character that’s real and believable when your audience can identify with them to the point they “jump” out of the page and into your readers’ minds.
In other words, when you’ve given your audience enough credible details throughout your narrative that it becomes plausible for them to believe that your character could actually exist somewhere out there, whether in the past, present or future.
If your readers find themselves thinking about your character’s traits and inner-workings after having put down your book, then you’ve done a great job!
Avoid Over-Complicating Your Characters
When you create a character, it’s important that they don’t become a caricature or two dimensional. Characters need depth and complexity in order to connect with your audience.
Having said that, you don’t want to create a character that’s so intricate that they become impossible to figure out.
Another pitfall is making your character too perfect or flawless (in other words, devoid of real humanity.)
While this may seem like an appealing or even a convenient idea at first blush — after all who doesn’t want their protagonist to be infallible — it’ll actually hurt your reader engagement because you’ll make it difficult for people to identify with them.
Examples of Different Types of Common Characters
Here are some examples of character archetypes to help you get your character development started:
The protagonist is the main character in your story who you want your audience to root for. They’re generally a well-intended person who in good faith wants to do everything in their power to solve whatever problem has been set before them.
The antagonist is your protagonist’s counterpoint. They have different goals or motivations from what’s going on and will do everything in their power to stop your protagonist from being able to accomplish their goals.
A sidekick helps out with tasks such as research or gathering information while acting under another character like a protagonist or an antagonist.
This type of character can often offer more insight into your protagonist or your antagonist by providing your readers a “fly on the wall” viewpoint that can add nuance to the story, for example, facts that your main characters may not be aware of at the time but that you want your audience to find out.
Ways to Ensure That Your Readers Can Connect With Your Characters
Make sure your characters are developed to be approachable and three-dimensional.
Your goal with character development is to create a protagonist your readers will embrace and root for, and an antagonist that although malicious in nature has a human side that’s relatable.
By adding flaws and weaknesses to your characters you’ll be eliciting empathy from your audience, and empathy is the glue that connects characters with readers.
But you don’t just want to create flaws for the sake of eliciting empathy alone. You also want to force your characters to actively and even perhaps reluctantly deal with those flaws in order to experience growth within their character arc.
It’s also a good idea to create situations where your character’s past makes it difficult for them to experience growth resulting in pain or suffering, which will also elicit empathy from your audience.
Questions to Help You in Your Character Development Process
Here are some useful questions to help you frame your character development process:
- What flaws do your characters have and how can they overcome them? (how will they experience growth?)
- What motivates your characters?
- Do their motivations change throughout the story or is there a main motivation that never changes?
- How does your main characters react when someone close to them dies, gets injured, etc.?
- What kind of impact does this leave on them as a character? (think: origin stories of superheroes)
- What would cause your protagonist to turn into an antagonist toward another character at some point during the plot line?
Wrapping Things Up
As a final note, keep in mind that not all stories need a strong character arc in order to work. Some books focus on the plot instead of the emotional journey of specific characters (e.g. novels about famous bank robberies.)
Others strictly focus on the emotional journey of the protagonist while the plot line takes a back seat. And yet others focus on both, giving you a lot of freedom of expression as an author (e.g. fantasy stories.)
But in the end, don’t be afraid to experiment. You never know what kind of amazing storyline may pop into your head as you go through your character development process!
If you’re working on a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.