How to Develop a Character: The Ultimate Guide
Do you ever find yourself getting lost in a book, or feeling like you know the character as if they were a real person? That's because the author has done an excellent job of developing their character.
In this article, we will discuss the essentials of character creation to develop a believable and engaging character for your story.
Decide whether they are static or dynamic
One of the first things you need to decide about your character is whether they are static or dynamic.
A static character is one who does not change throughout the story, while a dynamic character undergoes some sort of change. This change can be referred to as a character arc.
For example, Tony Stark in the movie Iron Man is a dynamic character because he starts out as a selfish playboy and changes into a selfless hero who helps others by the end of the story. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, is a static character because he starts out as a selfless hero and stays that way throughout the whole movie but he influences the people around him.
It's important to decide this early on in your character creation process because it will affect the arc of your story. If your character is static, their role in the story will be more about staying the same in spite of the changes happening around them. If your character is dynamic, their role will be more about change and growth.
Read these tips on creating dynamic characters.
Decide whether they are the main character or secondary characters
The next thing you need to decide is whether your character is the main character or a secondary character.
Main characters, also called the protagonists, are the central figures around which the story revolves. They are typically the ones who drive the plot forward and face the challenges head-on. The main character is also whose character arc is tied directly to the main theme of the story.
Secondary characters are just as important as they provide support for the main character and help move the story along.
In Harry Potter, Ron Weasley is a secondary character; he supports Harry throughout his journey and helps him defeat Voldemort.
Give your character positive and negative traits
Now that you know whether your character is static or dynamic and whether they are the main character or a secondary character, it's time to give them some personality traits.
Believable characters have both positive and negative traits. Make sure your characters have both in order to make them relatable.
For example, let's say you're writing about a detective who is trying to solve a case. Some of their positive traits might be that they're smart, resourceful, and determined. However, they might also have some negative traits such as being obsessive, impatient, and rude.
Read this article about Character Descriptions.
Give your character values to live by
In addition to personality traits, a well-developed character should also have values that they live by.
Values are the things that are important to your character and influence their decisions and actions. Strong characters have strong values that are the moral compass in their journey in life.
For example, let's say you're writing about a woman who is trying to decide whether or not to have a child. Some of her values might be family, happiness, and independence.
Having well-defined values for your character can make their personalities empathetic to the audience and make a fictional character realistic. Values can also be a major source of drama for your story when the character is forced to act in contradiction to them.
Craft mannerisms to give your character depth
Mannerisms are the small details that make your character unique and help them stand out from other characters. These character details can be body language, dialogue, gestures, or habits.
For example, let's say you're writing about a woman who is always fidgeting with her hands when she's nervous. This is a small detail, but it helps portray what they're feeling at the time without explicitly telling the audience.
Another example of mannerism is the way your character talks. Do they use a lot of hand gestures? Do they have a particular catchphrase?
Think about the little things that make your character special and use them to add depth to your story. Creating character mannerisms can be a fun way to add small details that add up to a bigger picture.
Read this article about character mannerisms.
Make your character likable or unlikable
One of the most important things to consider when developing your character is whether you want them to be likable or unlikable. Interesting characters need to be either-or. There's nothing more boring than a character that is neither likable nor unlikable.
This is entirely up to you and there are no right or wrong answers. It's important to think about why you want your character to be likable or unlikable and what effect this will have on your story.
If you're having trouble with this, read this article on how to write a likable character.
Give your character a goal and motivation
Every character needs a goal or motivation; this is what drives the story forward and keeps the character interesting.
A goal is something that your character is trying to achieve and a motivation is what drives them to achieve it.
For example, let's say you're writing about a woman who is trying to get over her ex-boyfriend. Her goal might be to find someone new to date and her motivation might be that she wants to prove to herself that she can be happy without him.
Think about what your character wants and why they want it; this will help you develop their story arc and keep them moving towards a specific goal.
Read this article on how to write believable character motivations.
Describe your character's hands
This might sound odd when you first think about it. How does a character's hands tell them who they are?
There are many aspects you can tell about a person by looking or describing their hands. Are they smooth or calloused? Are the nails clean or dirty? Are the short and stubby or long and gangly? Do they fidget with their hands a lot or are they calm and still?
Describing your character's hands can be a gateway for your audience to understand a lot of information and backstory about them without explicitly stating it.
Read this article on how to describe a character's hands.
Craft your character's backstory
Every character has a backstory, even if it's never explicitly mentioned in the story.
A backstory is the events and experiences that have happened to your character in the past and have shaped them into the person they are today.
Compelling characters have a backstory with a "ghost" that helps drive their decisions in the story. A ghost is a traumatic event that has warped the perception of the world and has made them develop a weakness that they have to overcome.
Let's go back to the earlier example about the woman who is trying to get over her ex-boyfriend. Her backstory might be that she was cheated on by him and she's struggling to trust anyone again.
Think about what events in your character's life have influenced their current situation and how they react to things that happen to them going forward.
Read this article on how to write a flashback.
Use a character archetype
One of the easiest ways to develop an engaging character is to use a character archetype.
An archetype is a type of character that is instantly recognizable and relatable.
For example, some common archetypes are the hero, the damsel in distress, the villain, and the sidekick. Think about which archetype your character fits into and use this as a starting point for their development.
You don't have to use a character archetype to develop character, but they are good jumping-off points.
Read this article on character archetypes to create great characters.
Create a Character Profile
Now that you've built these aspects of your character, it's time to put it all together in a character profile.
A character profile is a helpful tool that will allow you to keep track of all the important details about your character. It's important to have one for each character in order to stay consistent within your story. Keep organized and refer back to your profile sheets whenever you are wondering what the character should do next.
Learn what it takes to build a character profile.
Character Profile Notion Template
Our free Character Profile Worksheet will help you build realistic and empathetic fictional characters. It’s not just another character profile template. You’ll learn how to make your character matter by giving them real desires, needs, and goals. Your readers will be able to connect with these characters on an emotional level because they are complex individuals who have depth beyond what is written on paper.
Character development is an essential tool for storytellers. Building a believable and engaging character is an important part of writing any story. By taking the time to develop your character's personality, values, and mannerisms, you will create a well-rounded and interesting individual that readers will be able to connect with.
Use the tips in this article to develop characters that are believable, interesting, and relatable.