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Writing Tips: Character Development

It doesn't matter how mind blowing or perfect your plot is, without proper character development the ship that is your story will sink. If you don't have a cast of people your reader will care about, you may as well not write the story because even in high intensity fantasy, where the entire world is on the verge of crumbling, without a multi-dimensional and relatable hero to root for, you've got nothing. So how do you make characters compelling enough that your reader wants to care about them? There are a few simple things to remember:

We want our characters to have a character arc. In other words, at the beginning of the story they will be one person but by the end, the events that happen in the story will change them somehow. It will transform their beliefs either in themselves or the world around them. Every good story shows us character arcs, because if they haven't changed, they've learned nothing from their journey.

In order to make them learn and transform and grow and change, we have to make them as much like real people as we can. So let's look at what makes a flat character vs a developed one.

1. Give them quirks.

Make it easy for a character to stick in your reader's minds by giving them individual quirks. In my Wattpad stories Celebrity Status and Infamous, one of the character's Sawyer is always messing with a Rubick's cube.

So maybe your character wears lucky socks or breaks into song at random or is constantly cleaning their glasses. Maybe they're never without a set of ear buds in their ears or they're obsessed with thrift store shopping. A good way to drum up some ideas is to people watch or to think of your friends or family.

2. Give them flaws

Think about every single person you know. Are any of them perfect? Perhaps a smart and utterly perfect on the outside person who everyone admires really has a close minded view of the world and is arrogant and cocky. Maybe they struggle with addiction, or they lack patience or are judgmental or they get jealous easily. Maybe they're indecisive, impulsive, sexually promiscuous or maybe they're plain lazy or suffer from poor self esteem.

The point is they need to be flawed, something which they may or may not overcome, because flaws make us human.

3. Give them emotional wounds, and both internal and external motivation.

Emotional wounds are the fuel to the character's fire. Why does a character not believe in himself? Past failures? Maybe his parents set expectations impossibly high, so he feels like he'll never be good enough. Maybe your character was the victim of a violent crime that's forever jaded his view on the kindness of others. Maybe he or she was raised by a neglectful, careless mother and as a result is caustic and abrasive.

Regardless of what damage you give them, an emotional wound is something traumatic that has happened or continues to happen to your character that contributes to their insecurities or flaws.

Characters need emotional wounds to make them relatable. Real life is far from perfect and theirs should be too.

So now we have a flawed and somehow wounded individual. The next thing they need is both internal and external motivation.

An internal motivation is the thing within the character that is the driving force behind what they hope to achieve.

The external goal is the actual objective your character is chasing.


Johnny wants to enter the biggest surfing contest in the world (external motivation) to prove to himself and his father he can get in the water (internal motivation) because he was attacked by a shark when he was a kid and has had a paralyzing fear of water ever since (emotional wound).

Princess Penelope must conquer the evil fairy queen (external motivation) in order to save her family (internal motivation) the only problem is she has tried repeatedly and failed every time so she does not belief in herself and her ability to do so (emotional wound).

Steven wants to graduate high school with honors (external motivation) because no one in his family finished high school and he wants to make his life better and mother proud (internal motivation) but he faces an uphill battle because he has been looked down upon for his whole life for growing up in poverty (emotional wound).

4. Give them rich background and detailed history.

It's easier to make characters realistic when they have histories and a background that is believable. There are more to characters than age, height, weight etc. In order to accomplish this, you can fill out a character worksheet which you can customize to be as detailed as you like.

Think about things like their religious background (if applicable), their childhood memories, their biggest fears, their greatest weakness, their talents, skills, things that happened to them that may affect them now.

You can find many online but you can also make your own to look exactly how you want it to look. As you begin to fill them out, your character will start as an idea and grow to have a backstory like any real human on earth.

Side note: "Flat" or secondary characters don't need all of the above. For the creepy dude who flirts with the girl at the ice cream shack, your reader only needs a limited visual description. Your main characters and supporting cast (the hero/heroine's BFF's etc) need to be rich and well thought out in order to keep the pages alive and keep your reader emotionally connected to your characters. 

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