Seven Tips for Effective Character Development

Character development is hard to master – how do you create meaningful characters that have a solid place in your story? You have to develop believable characters that your readers will feel emotions for, and these seven tips will help to develop a realistic character in your writing.

1.    Use real people as a basis

I’ve heard some writers say that this shouldn’t be how you create a character or it’s ‘cheating’, but I find the best characters come out of real people. I don’t like basing an entire character around one person, so I often use personality traits and quirks from two or more people to create my character.

I use a friend’s mannerisms or a family members attitude. I incorporate different people to create my character. For example, Grace’s physical appearance is based off a girl I knew in University who had a Japanese mother and an Australian father. Her mannerisms are based off a friend I had at my old workplace and her personality traits come from a few different people.

You can stay far more consistent when your character has the personality and traits of someone you know – you know how they’d react in a situation and what pushes their buttons.

2.    Give them flaws

Your characters have to have flaws, just like real people have flaws. No one is perfect and it’s our flaws that make us unique and interesting. Give your characters real flaws – give them a quick temper or absent-minded or arrogant.

Give them something that makes them real. This in turn will help create sympathy and love for your characters – which then makes them feel like real people.

3.    Give them a backstory

“The magic of a story is when the characters come to life, and defy our expectation.”

H.S. Crow

All characters had a life before your story begins. Often, a novel starts in the middle of the action – world is in trouble or issues have already started. You need to ensure that you can implant aspects of their backstory throughout the novel so that the readers understand the character’s motivation.

You don’t have to go in-depth with it – a short conversation with their friend or three pages of backstory, it’s up to you how you do it. Just make sure the readers can understand why your character is motivated to do whatever they are needing to do.

Create a character profile to keep so that you know who your character is, where they’re from, if they have family and what they did before the novel began. Knowing all of this is important in developing your character. If your character’s family has died, try to wind that into the dialogue somehow. It can be as simple as “I don’t have family anymore.”

Your character is a person and you need your readers to feel connected to them and care for them. Create meaningful characters with a backstory behind them in order to make them believable – they didn’t just spawn and get dropped in the middle of a warzone! How did they get there? Why are they there? These are all important questions to answer.

4.    Give them a purpose

Characters are also people – they need things and they want things. People are motivated by their desires and needs and you need to ensure your characters are too. The story should be spent trying to fulfil characters needs or desires – this is what creates purpose.

Your character defines who you are by the actions you take.”

Catherine Pulsifer

Your characters need to have their own desires and morals to motivate what they do and how they act. If they are determined to get an object at all costs then you need to ensure that they go after that object no matter what. Keep to your character’s purpose and make sure that they are motivated by that purpose.

5.    Avoid stereotypes and clichés

Stereotypes and clichés are used so often in writing and it can become quite frustrating. Don’t fall into the trap of stereotypes – they are dangerous and often make people mad. Understand the difference between a ‘stereotype’ and an ‘archetype’.

A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. An archetype, however, is a very typical example of a certain person or thing. For example, the damsel in distress needing rescuing or the wizard having special powers. These characters don’t make assumptions about an entire group of people, rather they focus on one individual.

In relation to this, however, don’t fall into the trap of the clichés like the shy nerd or the spoilt rich brat. Create interesting, dynamic characters. The confident nerd or the spoilt rich child who enjoys reading and keeping away from trouble.

Don’t fall into the trap of clichés just because they’re easy – challenge yourself, and the reader, to break the mould and have interesting characters.

6.    Use secondary characters to challenge your main characters

Secondary characters are essential to your main character. They exist solely to move the story forward and develop the main character. They can be used to create situations your character must react and respond to or open up dialogues.

These minor characters help to challenge your main character and create conflict and dialogues. Secondary characters are very important due to this, and they need to have their own backgrounds and personalities in order to expand your main character and move the story forward.

7.    Make them suffer

It sounds terrible, but this is one of my most used tactics. You find out so much about people when they’re put under pressure. Flight or fight responses come out and you find out how people handle stress.

It really does help to develop your characters. What would the perfectionist do when someone ruins their essay? What would an overprotective mother do when her child sneaks out? What would the badass do when their leg has been torn off?

“Hardships occur to build a person’s character.”

Sahara Sanders

Make. Them. Suffer. Put them through hell and you will really learn exactly who they are and their development will be extraordinary.

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