Character Development: 5 Tips for Writers

Posted on January 2, 2014


ImageCharacters are integral to the success of every story. If you do not create realistic, intriguing characters, your readers will not become invested in the fates of these characters and won’t feel compelled to continue reading your book. If you choose a “cookie cutter” mold for your characters because you have read about similar characters in books, your book will not be unique. So how do you ensure that your characters are worth reading about? Here are some issues to avoid so that your book doesn’t become dull or cliché:

1.      “Out-of-character” moments are not suspenseful.

What do I mean by this? I don’t mean that every one of your characters has to be intellectually gifted to be worth reading about. You want to write about all kinds of different people, whether their IQs are off the charts or below average. However, don’t depend upon your characters’ “stupid moments” to heighten the suspense or push the plot forward. If you read or watch movies at all, you know what I am talking about—those moments when an otherwise smart character makes a predictably stupid choice that throws him or her into tense conflict. Or perhaps you’ve read a book in which a solution to a mystery that plagues a character is painfully obvious to you but still takes a couple more chapters for the main character to realize. Unless part of the suspense comes from being an all-knowing reader who is always one step ahead of the characters, no one wants to read a book in which he or she can predict the outcomes faster than the main character can. Plus, readers expect characters to behave consistently. Do not force a character to act “out-of-character” just to get her in trouble.

2.      Dependency is not romantic.

If you are writing a romance and incorporating romance into your story, remember that your characters are individuals with separate problems and interests. To let a character fall in love and become dependent on his significant other is to let him become boring and stale. Instead of allowing your characters to stagnate, continue to grow and develop their individual traits and allow their separate strengths and weaknesses to add dynamics to their relationships that can contribute to the plot. Readers want to be able to respect characters, and if an otherwise strong character becomes dependent once she falls in love, you run the risk of having your readers lose respect for her.

3.       Characters without problems are boring.

Conflict is the essence of story crafting. Without problems, there can be no story—no goals, no drama, no struggles, no excitement, and no resolutions. The same goes for characterization, too. If your characters have their lives “perfectly together” and never feel torn with internal conflicts or vying desires, they remain stagnant and boring. One of the main sources of drama and interest in a book is watching characters develop and change. Give your “goody-two-shoes” a dilemma that proves she is not so “good” after all; show a side to your antagonist that compels readers to sympathize with him. Dynamic characters are engaging characters.

4.      Not every protagonist should be model material. 

Although it may be tempting to make every leading woman and man in your books look beautiful or handsome in order to make any romantic chemistry all the more ideal, it can grow old for readers to find that the protagonists are excessively good-looking in every book they read. Don’t pattern every male after your dream man’s appearance so that you (or your readers) can live a romance vicariously through your leading lady. Instead, make each character a realistic individual with real flaws in his or her appearance and personality. Not everyone in the real world is supermodel material, and the same should be true of your characters. Give them unique traits, such as scars that can tell stories about their pasts, or perhaps create a character whose inner beauty outshines her outward “plainness.” The point is, making every protagonist look predictably stunning grows old for readers. Instead, make sure their appearances match their personalities, their backgrounds, and their stories—whether this means they look “good” or not.

5.      Characters shouldn’t all speak in the same way. 

In terms of dialect or accents in a book, it’s true that you may have a group of people who all speak similarly due to shared backgrounds. However, your dialect should still allow for speech differences because your characters all have individual desires, motivations, and interests. Their attitudes should be distinct. Maybe one character is sarcastic, while another is obsessive compulsive. What people tend to talk about reflects what they care about, and this should be true in your books as well. Ensure that your dialogue emphasizes unique character traits and brings your characters to life. Rather than consisting merely of words on a page, your dialogue should contain the individual voices of your characters.

The overall key to creating good characters is to imagine that you are writing about real people. How would you capture the personalities of those around you on paper? In the same way, you need to “get to know” your fictional characters until you are so familiar with them that it feels as natural to write about them as if they were actual people you were writing about. If you can get your characters to come to life for you, it will be that much easier to bring them to life for your readers.

Rachel Schade, Writer, Editor, and Publishing Coordinator, Asta Publications

Asta Publications has a long history of helping writers tell their stories and get published. Since 2004, Asta Publications has helped hundreds of authors bring their book concepts to life and we are ready to help you too! Our dedication to our authors is unmatched. We deliver first-class products and services that are accurate, high quality, and exceed our authors’ expectations.

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