Character Development

Character development is a crucial aspect of any manuscript, whether it’s a novel, a memoir, or a screenplay. Developing well-rounded, believable, and relatable characters can make or break a story, and is often what sets a great work of fiction apart from a mediocre one.

So, what exactly is character development? Simply put, it’s the process of creating and shaping a character over the course of the story. It involves defining the character’s traits, backstory, motivations, and personality, and showing how they change and evolve over time.

Here are some tips on how to develop compelling characters in your manuscript:

  1. Character Outline
    Before you start writing, take some time to flesh out your characters’ appearance, personality, routine, backstory, and motivations. Consider their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and hopes and fears. Give your character flaws! It makes them more interesting and relatable. Perfection doesn’t exist. They need to feel like real people, rather than caricatures or stereotypes.

    *A “Character Profile” is a good way to keep track of these types of details so you don’t forget.*


  2. Create conflict
    Conflict is the engine that drives any story. It’s also an essential tool for character development. It provides an opportunity for characters to be challenged, and when characters face challenges and obstacles, they’re forced to confront their fears, flaws, and limitations. This can lead to growth and transformation, as they learn to overcome their weaknesses and become stronger and more resilient.

    One way to create conflict in character development is to give the character a problem to solve or a goal to achieve. This problem or goal should be difficult to attain, and the character should face obstacles and challenges along the way. It can come in many forms, such as external conflicts like fighting a physical enemy or internal conflicts like grappling with self-doubt or conflicting emotions.

    Another way to create conflict is to introduce a character with opposing beliefs, values, or goals. This can create tension and conflict between characters, forcing them to confront their own beliefs and values, and potentially change as a result.

    Ensure that the conflict is rooted in the character’s motivations and desires. This means understanding what drives the character and what they’re willing to fight for. By creating conflict that is specific to the character’s motivations, the conflict will feel more natural and meaningful, and the character’s growth and change will have more impact.

    However, conflict shouldn’t be introduced for the sake of creating drama. It should always serve a purpose in the story and be integral to the character’s development.

    So, ask yourself –
    • How it will drive the story forward?
    • How will it contribute to the character’s growth and transformation?


  3. Emphasize Change
    Change is an essential part of character development and requires attention to detail. Without change, there can be no growth or transformation. Make sure your characters experience meaningful change over the course of the story which is realistic and believable, not forced. This can be a change in their beliefs, values, relationships, or goals.

    How can it be done?
    • Creating a clear contrast between the character’s initial state and their final state. This can be done by highlighting flaws and weaknesses earlier on, then showing how they’re overcome.
    • Showing characters facing challenges or obstacles that force them to confront their flaws and grow as a person. These challenges can be external, such as facing a difficult opponent, or internal, such as battling personal demons.

      If the character learns a valuable lesson, it should be because they faced a situation that forced them to reevaluate their beliefs or behaviors.


  4. Avoid Stereotypes
    Stereotypes are lazy and unoriginal representations of people that are often based on assumptions and biases. They can make your characters feel flat and one-dimensional. Instead, strive to create unique and complex characters that defy expectations and surprise the reader. This will make your story more interesting and engaging, and will keep readers invested in your characters’ journeys.

    How to avoid stereotypes?
    • Do research. Find out about cultural, social, and historical context of the character you want to create to help you understand their background and prevent inaccuracies. (Reach out to people from different backgrounds or those that have lived experiences different from your own.)
    • Avoid using tropes or clichés. These are overused traits and plotlines commonly associated with specific groups of people. (i.e. “damsel in distress” — the idea that women are weak and need to be rescued by men.) Make your characters unique.
    • Show diversity. Avoid portraying an entire group of people as having the same characteristics or behaviour. Make characters different, but their inclusion should be meaningful and contribute to the story in some way.


  5. Show, don’t tell
    One of the cardinal rules of writing is to “show, don’t tell.” This is especially true when it comes to character development. Instead of telling the reader what a character is like, show their personality through their actions, dialogue, and interactions with other characters. By doing so, you can create a more immersive and engaging reading experience that allows readers to draw their own conclusions about the character.

    For example:

    If your character is shy and introverted, show them avoiding social situations, speaking softly, or fidgeting nervously.

    If your character is a drunk, show them stumbling around, drinking alcohol, or slurring their words...


    GET CREATIVE!

Creating compelling and memorable characters will help bring your story to life. So take the time to develop your characters, show their personalities through their actions and dialogue, and make sure they’re relatable!

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