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5 Tips to Develop Characters You Care About

Strong character development can make or break a story. Here’s five ways you can develop characters that your readers will actually want to read about.

What is the most memorable part of your favorite book? Would you say it is the story itself or the characters that you latch onto for years later?
Character-driven stories are my personal preference, which means in my own writing I tend to focus heavily on personalities, backstories, and the like. I get attached to and invested in characters with rich personalities like Sam Gamgee from Lord of the Rings, or Evelyn Hugo. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is develop characters using little personality sketches, background stories, and so on.
How can one write and develop characters that are believable, loveable, and just all around amazing? Here’s five things that I keep in mind when creating new characters.

1. Consistency

If readers are going to take your characters seriously, then they need to be consistent. It doesn’t matter what personality traits or physical attributes they have, as long as they stay consistent. If you’re not the kind of person who plans everything out ahead of time, at the very least make notes while you’re writing.

The first time you mention a character’s hair color, the reader adds that to their mental image. But then, if five chapters later, their hair is suddenly blonde? That’s going to throw the reader off and probably take them out of the story a bit. And trust me, it gets even worse when it’s something more important to the plot than just the color of someone’s hair.

2. Unique is great, but in small doses

It has become more common-place to give characters some unique traits. In a way, quirky has become the new sexy, but sometimes writers take this idea a little too far. Too much uniqueness can really be a hit to the believability meter and start to make readers roll their eyes.

Finding that balance where your character comes off as cute and special without being over the top is hard though. My favorite way to ride that line is to only choose two, maybe three, quirks or traits to make my character stand out from everyone else.

For example, a character I’m working on is an extremely normal person, well-loved by everyone, works hard at her job. She also dip-dyes her hair blue, has been hung up on the same guy for twenty years, and has literally never left her tiny hometown a day in her life. She’s just different enough from the rest of the town to make her interesting to the story, but not so different as to feel like an outsider or like she doesn’t belong.

3. Perfection and flaws

Everyone says this now, but it’s true. Make your characters flawed. The main reason for this is because nobody is perfect. And readers want to see themselves in the characters they read about. I’m a people pleaser, a trait I really don’t like all that much about myself, and it’s satisfying to read a character who struggles with and maybe overcomes that same problem.

Perfect characters are annoying because, again, they’re not believable. A couple of minor flaws, maybe ones that can be bumps in the road on the way to the book’s end goal, really help the reader get into the mind of the character.

4. Internal and external development

Most of the time, we come up with plotlines for our stories. End goals where the guy gets with the girl, or the good guys win, that sort of thing. But these are usually external conflicts. Obvious outcomes.

Internal conflict though, that’s where the real story lies. In the romance novels, sure, the end goal is for the two main characters to get together, but in the process, one or both of them grow emotionally. They have internal conflict to work through before they can be with the love of their life. It’s just as important for the guy to work through his emotional struggles on his own as it is for the couple to convince a family member they’re making the right choice.

Internal conflict makes characters so much more relatable.

5. Backstory creates development

Make your character’s backstory and past count towards the story’s goal. This might be in regards to that internal conflict we were just talking about. Maybe the hero in that romance story struggles with being distant emotionally. That could be a result of his childhood and his parents, or maybe a past relationship that ended in disaster.

The past holds a lot of keys to our own personalities and current lives. Everyone has some sort of trauma in their life and it doesn’t even have to be anything crazy tragic or whatever. As long as something is a believable cause of a character’s personality trait, that’s all that matters!

If you’re looking for more tips or maybe some character questions to jumpstart the creation process, Reedsy and Masterclass both have some great ideas to use as starting points. Making sure your characters are believable and realistic is harder than it sounds like it should be, but keeping a few ideas like this in mind will make the process much easier and more straightforward.

Posted by Katharine Espinosa

Katharine is a freelance writer, editor, and aspiring author. She loves coffee, chocolate, cats, and riding her horses on the weekends. She lives in rural Texas with her husband and daughter.

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