Writing Tips #2, Developing Characters for your Story

Character Development is a challenge every author faces when writing a meaningful story. The above is a picture of one of my characters of the story I’m currently working on. I find that drawing my characters helps me to see them better and help them grow. It took quite a long time for me to decide who and what I wanted them to be. Even now I still have trouble deciding their fate within the story. Do they save the world? Can they? Are they doomed to die? Do they matter to anyone else? These are vital questions that I struggle with when contemplating the story’s progression. It’s also important to develop the characters into meaningful elements of the story so that the reader will eventually grow attached and care about the character.  Game of Thrones fans will understand how painful this can be, but it’s the mark of excellent writing.

One of the most important considerations to make when designing a character is determining whether they are a dynamic character or a static character. A dynamic character is a character that evolves during the story and changes from what they were at the start of the story. The only true restriction I would make is that the protagonist should be a dynamic character. Who would enjoy a static hero that never changes during the story? The most dramatic stories often have the hero facing doubt or loss, losing hope at some point and then regaining their confidence. This isn’t the situation all the time, just the ones I enjoy reading the most. But a dynamic character changes along the story, so it helps to keep this in mind when developing a character. I find that, in developing a dynamic character, it is easier to give them the personality and attributes you want them to have and then have them react to the events and character interactions of the story. Think of your dynamic characters as real people in real life. Real life isn’t scripted, things happen and people react. In a similar way your dynamic characters will react and grow just as real people do. Consider that, if the main character’s best friend dies in a car crash, that will change the main character dramatically. Now while dynamic characters are fascinating and add to a story’s complexity, remember not to go overboard on the number of dynamic characters you have. The more dynamic characters present in a story, the more complex the story becomes. The writer must always take precautions not to make the story too complicated that the reader has difficulty remembering connections between characters and events. It helps to throw in static characters to make the dynamic ones more apparent and interesting.

A static character is one that doesn’t change during the story. Now while that may initially sound like a bad character, it is not a bad element to add to the story. You may decide to have a character who is a stoic noble warrior who, no  matter what challenges he or she faces, will persevere. This character may shine as a role model or a rock for the main character to rely on. Another case maybe be a coward that always runs, as someone to compare to the main character. Often a static character would be one used to support one of the main characters. It also helps to consider that, when the main character grows and changes through the story, their interaction with a static character will also change. The static character won’t change so it helps the reader understand the change developing in the main character.

While characters may be dynamic or static, they may also be considered round or flat as well. A round character has many developed and explored traits about them. I can use my character, Mathew, as an example of a round character. Mathew begins the story as a confused, adventurous young man who is friendly and kind, doing whatever he can to help the people he meets. He has doubt within him that stems from not knowing his true identity. But he also suffers from anger and a battle lust that he tries to fight but strengthens every time he battles. Now, looking at Mathew, the reader can see that he has many traits. Confused, doubtful, helpful, kind, cheerful, loyal, angry, vengeful, and, at times, lost. As the story continues, the reader can see how Mathew’s various traits affect his actions as the plot develops. Not the best description for a character but enough to use as an example. You can do this with the protagonist of many stories and find that they are round and often dynamic characters.  At this point you can also infer that a flat character normally has very few traits. Often a flat character can be a stereotype. Think of a bubbly school girl, idiot jock, quiet and shy nerd, and etc. There are many flat characters out there that can be used to either explain the setting or the main character more. Consider a town in which the protagonist finds that all the people he meets are racist and angry. It can imply that the culture there is bigoted and the protagonist may face challenges from society. Using a variety of these characters helps to flesh out the Writer’s story more.

Every story needs characters to make it interesting and exciting to read.  While I have explained it rather briefly here, it should be noted that it takes time to create characters meaningful to a story. Writers can spend a large amount of time focused on fleshing out characters to place in the story so that they contribute to its theme. Is the theme of the story romance? Perhaps the protagonist is a hopeless romantic surrounded by hard-hearted angry people or vice versa.

Developing a Meaningful Character can be simple and yet very complex at the same time. Is this the protagonist of the story? The Narrator? A background character? These are some of the questions the writer has to answer first to decide the character’s role and ultimate destiny within the Plot. Some can be done fairly easily, like picking up a random rock and throwing it through a window. The rock that shatters the window, that is one of the Main Characters. This can be the Hero or Villain, the one person who sets things in motion. The window is the status quo, how the world was before this character sets the story in motion. Now when determining this character’s attributes, personality, and meaning, that’s all up to the writer. All that matters is that this is the character that sets the story in motion. Like Hagrid in Harry Potter who revealed to him that he was a wizard or Gandalf when he revealed to Frodo what the Ring was. This character may send another character to start the events of the story and remain mysterious until the protagonist or another character discovers their involvement. It makes it easier to also have this character be the antagonist of the story. Perhaps this character had sent a militant force to arrest the protagonist. Deciding a character’s fate depends on what objective they’re meant to fulfill within the story. Are they a support for another character? Do they stand in opposition to the protagonist? The more questions the writer can answer about a character the easier it will be to understand that character and find its place within the story.

Creating and developing characters requires time and patience. Just as the people you meet in your day to day life are complex and diverse, so too can the characters in your story be. It helps to show the reader that your characters are meaningful and interesting. Bear in mind it’s impossible to make a character every reader will love, so don’t focus on that. Rather, try focusing on making the character unique. Develop him or her close to a real person, with emotions and reactions that a real person would express. You as the writer may even grow close to them as you spend more time developing them.

As always, I hope this helps!

– Raphael

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