Tips on Character Development in Novel Writing

Most readers prefer to be drawn-in by narratives with intriguing characters with whom they can relate rather than complicated plot-driven stories that lack well-established characters. The more rounded your characters are, the more believable they are and the more empathy you’ll be able to elicit from your readers.

Below are a few points to consider when you’re creating a new character.

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Background

  • Know your character’s personal history. Focus on the experiences and memories that define the character’s personality and existential place in the world.
  • Don’t just include random information, instead zero-in on the pivotal moments that shape your character’s decision-making process, allowing past experiences to inform future behaviors.
  • Include memories, good and bad, that your character revisits when he/she is alone, afraid, joyful, angry, resentful or envious.

Mannerisms

  • If your character has quirky traits or a phrase that he/she repeats often, then it should be something profound, alarming or interesting enough to add to his/her overall development and drive the plot forward.
  • Exercise restraint when using this device, the occasional, well-placed quirky trait or phrase is always more powerful than randomly scattered ones.

Appearance

  • What does your character look like? Focus on something unique or play with the idea of appearances playing a role in the outcome of conflicts and/or plot twists.
  • Consider the possibility that the character’s perception of self may not align with how he/she actually appears to others.

Motivations

  • Interesting characters are usually caught in a moment of indecision or near-decision at some rest stop along the highway of their inner journey, consider the factors that propel your character towards or away from his/her intended destination.
  • What or whom is your character willing to risk to achieve his/her goals?
  • Perhaps it would be more satisfying if he/she were to meet with failure instead of success.

Conflicts

  • All characters face external conflicts, but the more interesting ones harbor deep-rooted internal ones.
  • Do the conflicts in your story satisfactorily disturb your character’s ability to self-actualize?

Evolution

  • For better or worse, every character should undergo change throughout your narrative. A character’s evolution should be something that readers can track and understand: what events inspired this change, how much has he/she changed, does this change work with or against the momentum of the plot, etc.
  • By going through a personal evolution, does your character also affect change on his/her world and/or other people in it?
  • Evolution, by its nature, is gradual. Change shouldn’t happen spontaneously. It should be something your character earns throughout the narrative.

by: Samantha Lê, poet & novelist

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