One of the most important parts of writing a story is having well-written characters. These characters can be relatable and allow your readers to connect with the character and the story. Other characters provide comic relief, and therefore a moment of entertainment for your readers. There are a lot of purposes for characters, but no matter what their role or purpose is, they need to be well-written.
Character development has always been a struggle for me. Oftentimes, I felt that my characters were flat and boring with just a sprinkle of personality when necessary. Luckily, this has changed with practice and help from friends. Below, I’ve shared some of the most helpful tips I’ve received over the years. Hopefully this will help make your characters unique and developed.
#1 What are some defining characteristics?
Specific physical attributes are not everything. In fact, most readers will think your characters looks drastically different than how you’ve imagined them. However, having one or two defining characteristics can guarantee a basis for the image of your character. Some examples can be sounds of voices, nervous ticks, unique clothing styles, intriguing scars, or uncommon eye or hair color.
Not every character needs a defining characteristic, but you should at least come up with some physical focal points for your main characters, protagonist, and antagonist. Also, you don’t have to share these characteristics directly in the narrative but having them on hand can be helpful.
#2 What are their greatest fears and desires?
Most everyone is driven by fear or desire in some way. When you can understand what your character’s fears and desires are, you have the potential to unlock a whole host of information about them. Learning about fears and desires can also tell you about a character’s past, what they’ll avoid, what they like to do, what makes them happy, and a whole lot more.
Knowing about your character’s fears and desires can tell you how to write your characters into the story. Is there a scene where some characters enter a cave by force? Is one of your characters afraid of the dark? If so, then their reaction is going to be much different than other characters. This unique reaction can display a character’s personality, how they handle stress, or how the overcome struggles.
#3 What are they doing in the story?
This question is more for the writer than the character. If you put a character into a story, there’s probably a reason why. Maybe at first you just like this character because they’re funny or their good looking, but eventually you have to make a decision about who stays and who is kicked out. Usually there is reason for your decisions, and usually they are deeper than looks or comical relief.
If you can figure out why your character is present, you’ll be able to better communicate their actions, dialogue, and presence in the story.
**Note: if you are keeping the cute boy or girl in the story just because they’re attractive, that’s fine. Some people may say to remove them, but it’s your story. My only suggestion: if their only purpose is to “be cute” or “be funny” or whatever, make sure you stay true to this. Don’t make your characters something they’re not.
#4 What/who/where makes them feel safe?
Finding the comforts of your character can say a lot about their personality. For example, if they find comfort in nature, maybe one of their hobbies is hiking and learning about the environment. Or, if your character is easily anxious, maybe they always have a textured cloth to help with their anxiety.
Also, learning about your character’s happy places or safe people can help you understand how events flow together. If there’s an argument in a story, where would your character go to calm down? If your character is anxious, what would they do to process things? This information can move along your plot and allow for in-depth character development.
#5 How do they feel about the protagonist and their goal?
Just because the protagonist/hero has a goal, that doesn’t mean everyone agrees with them. Sometimes the protagonist isn’t even sure of their mission or goal. How a character responds to the protagonist’s goal can provide ample opportunity for character development.
Depending on what your writing, other characters’ opinions can initiate arguments, physical tension, or full battles with other characters or settings. These plot points not only propel a story forward, but also reveal key attributes of your characters.
Bonus Tip: Writing only dialogue!
What you say matters. What your characters say also matters. Some characters are going to be more direct, while others will be more passive. Some characters won’t speak much, and others are curious about everything. All of these individual aspects of a character can be displayed through their dialogue.
If you’re stuck on a scene, try writing just the dialogue with very minimal action or dialogue tags. After you finish, reread it and ask yourself if you’re able to distinguish between the characters’ voices and how dialogue points are emphasizing aspects of your character. Writing conflict scenes with just dialogue can also be helpful, as high tension and anger can reveal the true colors of your character.