A Master Guide on Character Development in Writing: Create Compelling Characters

Meru Gokhale
5th Jun 2023

Characters breathe life into stories. Whether it's the resolute Jane Eyre navigating the labyrinth of societal constraints or the indomitable Harry Potter, uniting a world divided by magic and prejudice, it is through their journeys that readers discover their humanity. Crafting compelling characters is essential to writing a great story. This blog post serves as your character creation guide, providing tools and techniques needed to create well-rounded characters that resonate with readers.

Section 1: Introduction to Character Development in Writing

Through this guide, you'll learn how to develop a character in a novel, imparting them with unique voices, motivations, and goals. You'll discover how to use dialogue, personality traits, and plot-driven actions to make your characters relatable, memorable, and engaging.
Whether you're a novice or an experienced writer, our character development tips will help you hone your skills, taking your storytelling to the next level. By the end of this guide, you'll be adept at writing compelling characters that truly come alive on the page.

Section 2: The Art of Writing Believable Characters

If you want to create compelling characters, solitude becomes a necessity. That might seem counterintuitive, especially considering that creating compelling characters includes talking to people. But it is one of the most fruitful techniques for developing well-rounded, dynamic characters, laying the groundwork for creating impactful fictional characters.

Instead of talking to others, talk to your characters. The more you talk to them, the more you can think about their personality, backstory, motivations, and goals. Ask yourself and the characters in your head questions. Answer them yourself sometimes. One question you could ask: What is the character's voice? How do they speak, and what language do they use?

By removing distractions and focusing on characters, you can gain deeper insight into their personalities, quirks, and motivations, resulting in more compelling and realistic characters. 

Quick-witted and independent-minded, Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice is known for her sharp tongue, strong opinions, and reluctance to conform to societal expectations. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series is intelligent, always armed with a vast knowledge of spells and books, occasionally displaying a tendency to be a bit of a know-it-all. And Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean is an eccentric pirate known for his flamboyant and unpredictable behaviour, distinct swagger, love for rum, and witty remarks. 

All these characters are vital to the books, driving the plot and compelling the reader's investment in their stories. 

Section 3: Exploring Character Development Exercises

Developing characters is a vital part of writing engaging and immersive fiction. But solitude isn't the only technique that helps. 

You've probably told many friends stories of amusing strangers you encountered, even if you might not have talked to them. It's likely a characteristic of theirs that caught your attention. Strangers are potential characters. 

Take a bus ride. Go to a cafe. Or maybe the tourist spot of wherever you are. Do the thing you used to do previously, usually without intention, but with purpose this time: people-watch. Put your phone on silent so that no one else disturbs you. Then take notes. You'll have a roster of characters in no time. 

Section 4: Using a Character Development Worksheet

The hardest part about crafting characters is ensuring they're consistent but not static in that they don't evolve. Character development worksheets help you stay organized as a writer, helping you ensure that your characters grow. These worksheets often include elements like a character's backstory, motivations, goals, and personality traits. By utilizing these worksheets, writers can dive deep into their characters' backgrounds and explore the factors that shape their identities. This process helps to establish a strong foundation for the characters, ensuring their actions and decisions remain consistent throughout the story.

You can use word processing software, a spreadsheet, or simply a pen and paper to make your worksheet. Consider organizing the worksheet into sections or categories for clarity. After determining the essential aspects you want to explore about your characters, such as their backstory, motivations, goals, personality traits, relationships, and conflicts, put it all down! You'll see yourself mapping your characters in no time. 

Section 5: Understanding Character Arcs in Writing

Character arcs are a vital component of storytelling, providing a platform to showcase the growth and transformation of characters throughout a narrative. 

Readers witness the evolution of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours as characters navigate challenges and experiences through character arcs. They offer a profound connection and emotional investment, as characters undergo personal journeys that encompass journeys from weakness to strength, self-discovery, or redemption. For example, in Jane Eyre, the eponymous character begins as a mistreated orphan, but through her experiences and relationships, she discovers her self-worth and embraces her independence. Similarly, in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield's character arc involves grappling with adolescence, alienation, and loss of innocence, ultimately leading him towards a deeper understanding of the complexities of life and the inevitability of change. 

Well-crafted character arcs enhance the depth and complexity of a story, leaving a lasting impact on readers.

Section 6: Recognizing Types of Characters in Literature

There are various types of characters in literature, and recognizing these can help you decide the roles that different characters play in your story. From protagonists and antagonists to supporting characters and minor characters, understanding these categories will enrich your character creation process.

  1. Protagonist: The main character who drives the plot forward and usually faces a conflict or challenge. Harry Potter, for instance, is the protagonist of the Harry Potter series—the eponymous title suggests just that! 
  2. Antagonist: The character or force that opposes the protagonist and creates conflict in the story. I hope Voldemort comes to mind!  
  3. Supporting character: Although significant, this character is not as central as the protagonist or antagonist. They may assist or hinder the protagonist in achieving their goals. Albus Dumbledore, Harry's mentor, is one example. 
  4. Flat character: A character who does not change or evolve throughout the story and is defined by one or two traits. Arguably, there aren't any flat characters in the Harry Potter series, which might be why it's an international bestseller. 

Congratulations! You have now discovered the importance of backstory, personality traits, and motivation in character development in writing. Put these skills to use and start writing believable characters. If you found this blog post helpful, make sure to check out Editorially's detailed course on character development to take your storytelling to new heights. Good luck!