Is character development important? Is character development one of the most important elements of good writing?
In this post, we’ll discuss what character development is, why it’s important, and provide tips for writers on how to create epic characters. We’ll also share examples from popular books to help illustrate our points.
Let’s back up a step and define character development. Character development refers to creating believable and realistic characters in a story.
This involves giving your characters depth, personality, and a back story that makes them feel real to your readers. By doing this, your readers will connect with your characters on an emotional level and become invested in their story.
Why is Character Development Important?
Character development is important in fiction writing because when you create dynamic characters, they are memorable to readers. Creating well-developed characters that readers can relate to, root for and care about is essential for a great story.
Because, when readers can connect with a character, they are more likely to care about what happens to them in the story. This can help to create a deeper emotional connection between the reader and the story.
There are a ton of online groups where people create art work, share their love of reading and their love of characters (aka Book Boyfriends/Girlfriends).
Related Story: How to Easily Write a Novel Organically
Hero vs the Anti-Hero
Is your character a hero or an anti-hero? Lets look at a couple of examples.
In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J. R. R. Tolkien gave Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, the dangerous mission of destroying the ‘One Ring’, which holds the power to enslave all of Middle Earth.
At the beginning of the story, he portrayed Frodo as innocent, naïve, and somewhat cowardly. However, as he embarks on his quest and faces many challenges and dangers, he develops courage, leadership skills, and a deeper understanding of the world around him.
By the end of the story, Frodo has become a hero who will sacrifice everything to complete his mission and save Middle Earth.
George R. R. Martin initially presented Jaime Lannister as a villainous character known for his arrogance, cruelty, and disregard for others in his A Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series. Jamie actually tosses Bran out of a window.
However, as the story unfolds, we learn more about his backstory and the events that have shaped his personality. We also see him engage in acts of selflessness and bravery, such as saving Brienne of Tarth from being raped and murdered.
By the end of the series, Jaime has undergone significant character development and has become a more complex, sympathetic, and humanized character, despite his past misdeeds. We can consider him an anti-hero because of his morally ambiguous nature and questionable actions throughout the series.
Elements of Character Development
The elements of character development are the various factors that shape a character’s personality, behaviour, beliefs, and actions throughout a story. These elements can include:
One way to create more depth in your characters is to give them a backstory. This can include details about their childhood, family, or life experiences that have shaped who they are.
A character’s emotional wounds, traumas, and relationships can have a significant impact on their current behaviour and motivations.
♦ In the Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling, the tragic backstory of Severus Snape shapes his motivations and behaviour throughout the series. His past love for Harry’s mother, Lily, and her untimely death at the hands of Voldemort, leads him to become a double agent and work against the Dark Lord.
We also learn about Harry’s tough childhood with his abusive aunt and uncle, which helps us understand why he is the way he is and the decisions and choices he makes.
The unique qualities, traits, strengths, and weaknesses of a character can shape how they interact with others and respond to challenges.
♦ In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s wit, intelligence, and independent spirit shape her interactions with the arrogant Mr. Darcy and her eventual growth and development as a character.
Conflict and Obstacles
The challenges and conflicts a character faces can force them to confront their fears, strengths, and weaknesses, which can lead to growth and development.
♦ Bella Swan’s conflicts with the powerful vampire coven, the Voltari, force her to confront her own mortality and the consequences of her choices in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series.
The characters that a protagonist interacts with can also affect their development, as they can provide support, challenge their beliefs, or create obstacles.
♦ In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jo March’s relationships with her sisters, particularly the more traditional and feminine Amy, challenge her beliefs and help her mature and develop as a character.
Choices and Actions
The choices and actions a character makes throughout the story can reveal their true nature and lead to consequences that shape their future.
♦ In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s choices to volunteer as a tribute for her sister and to form alliances with other tributes shape her character and have significant consequences for the story’s outcome.
Show Character Growth
Characters that change and grow over the course of a story are more interesting to readers. Your characters can face challenges to overcome, such as a tough decision or a personal flaw to work on.
♦ For example, in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we see the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from a cold-hearted miser to a kind and generous person. Or at least someone that saw the error of their ways.
Use dialogue to reveal character traits. Dialogue is a great tool for revealing character traits, such as their personality, motivations, and goals. By paying attention to how your characters speak, you can create a more nuanced and believable character.
♦ For example, in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, we learn a lot about Holden Caulfield’s personality through his use of language and tone.
Related Story: 10 Ways to Find the Time, Inspiration or Motivation to Write
Examples of Character Development
George R.R. Martin
In the A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones series, Martin uses multiple points of view to show the inner thoughts and motivations of each character. He also gives each character a distinct voice and personality that is consistent throughout the series, which helps readers connect with and care about them.
We know Austen for her development of complex, nuanced characters in her novels. She uses subtle details and observations to reveal the inner workings of each character’s mind and personality. Austen creates fully recognized characters through dialogue, action, and introspection, making them feel like real people.
Hemingway’s characters often reflect his own experiences and beliefs. He uses sparse, direct language to create characters who are stoic, brave, and often struggling with issues of identity, masculinity, and mortality. Hemingway’s characters are often flawed, but they are always deeply human.
Historical and cultural forces often shape Morrison’s characters, and she explores how race, gender, and identity intersect and influence each other. She uses vivid, poetic language to create characters who are complex, multidimensional, and unforgettable.
Salinger’s characters often struggle with feelings of alienation and isolation. He uses stream-of-consciousness narration and unconventional storytelling techniques to create characters who are both relatable and cryptic. Salinger’s characters often feel like outsiders, but they are always searching for meaning and connection in their lives.
These examples show character development.
10 Tips for Character Development
There are lots of ways writers can develop characters. My advice…
1. Create a Backstory: Start by creating a detailed backstory for your characters that includes their life experiences, relationships, and motivations.
2. Dig into Personality Traits: Consider your character’s personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, fears, and flaws to give them depth and complexity.
3. Consider Goals: Develop clear goals and motivations for your characters that drive their actions and decisions throughout the story.
4. Internal Conflict: Think about your character’s internal conflicts, such as their fears, desires, or struggles, and how these affect their behaviour and relationships.
5. Unique Traits: Give your characters distinct and memorable physical and verbal traits that make them unique and recognizable.
6. Dialogue: Use dialogue to reveal your character’s personality, voice, and relationships with other characters.
7. Minor Characters: Create secondary characters that complement or challenge your protagonist, providing opportunities for growth and development.
8. Show, don’t tell: Use actions and behaviours to reveal your character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
9. What is Your Role: Consider the role of your character in the larger story and how they can contribute to the plot and themes.
10. Refining: Continuously refine and develop your characters as the story progresses, allowing them to develop and change in response to their experiences and challenges.
One of the most important tips I give you is to write everything down for each character. Create a character bible or use a spreadsheet, but it’s important to keep all the information in one spot, easy to access and organized. You might think you can remember everything, but you won’t.
Last Words on Character Development
In conclusion, character development is an essential part of good writing.
By weaving these elements together, an author can create a dynamic and believable character that readers can empathize with and root for, even as they face hard challenges and setbacks.
Feature image by NoName_13 from Pixabay.