How to Develop Fictional Characters That Propel a Story Forward

Character development is essential for all writers. It is your characters, that keep your readers, reading. I have several books that I have stopped reading halfway through because I didn’t care for the characters. If you don’t care for the characters why would you want to keep reading, to find out what happened to them?

As writers, you have to develop likeable characters that people relate to. These characters should be likeable, but realistic. Unless you are writing a fairy tale I would steer away from Prince Charming. Flawed characters are better to attract readers. It makes them more likeable.

There are several writers that I admire for their character development. These are writers that I will visit again and again. It is no coincidence that most of them come from a series. A series allows a writer to develop a character more. Some of the characters I am going to speak about have almost become old friends. The development of these characters can teach us as writers many lessons.

Show the character flaws over time.

Robert Hunter is the main character in Chris Carter’s, series. When the series starts we are introduced to Hunter as a quiet diligent policeman. It is clear from his observations that he is intelligent and well-read. Throughout the first novel, Hunter comes across as one of the good guys, if not a little dark at times. His past life is hinted at but never explained.

As the novels progress, we are introduced to his back story. We find out more about his character and we slowly grow to love him. Hunter is flawed throughout the stories. His relationships with women never work out well. He is an insomniac who lives a secluded life. When he finds someone to share his life with, as a reader, you route for it to be a success, it isn’t.

Carter develops his character slowly over many books. Even though we are now on the eleventh book, there is still more to learn. It is this investment in the character which keeps me reading the series.

As writers, you need to have a well-developed character that you can show growing and changing. They need to be relatable. Ensure that you don’t give too much away at the beginning. Leave intrigue and grow the characters as the story grows.

Develop flawed characters, people can relate to.

Ruth Galloway, from one of Elly Griffiths series, is another excellent character. Griffiths has a talent for writing characters better than any other author. Her new series of books has other characters that I am drawn to. Galloway feels like a friend from the first book, someone you are rooting for.

Unlike other crime novels, Galloway isn’t a detective. She is a hard-working teacher who is drawn into the novels as a consultant. She is also my type of woman, loves her food. She knows she should get fitter, but can’t manage it. Her complicated love life resonates with several people.

We are introduced to Galloway’s character from the first book. She is very critical of herself, especially about her weight. Through this, she becomes instantly relatable to many. She also has an affair with a married man early in the story and falls pregnant.

Griffiths has managed to weave two stories in every one of her books. Every book centres around a different murder. However, it is the love story between the two characters that keeps us reading. Galloway is flawed and constantly making mistakes. It is this and her poor opinion of herself, which has you supporting her throughout.

As writers, characters do not need to be perfect. Flawed characters relate to your audience better. You don’t need to write a beautiful Disney princess, for people to read your books. Make sure that your characters have more than one dimension to them. Write real people, not fantasy characters.

If you are a writer of fantasy, you still need to make the characters relatable. George R.R Martin managed to write a dragon with a personality that we loved.

Innocence in characters can teach readers.

Jean Louise Finch is innocent throughout her story. You might know her better by her nickname, Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird. With a daughter named after the author, it is no surprise this book has lived with me for years.

Harper Lee wrote a masterpiece and told a story that everyone needed to hear. She tells her story through Scout’s perspective. As Scout learns about the horrors of the world, the reader learns alongside her. Consider for a minute if an older character told us about the racism, would the story have had the same impact.

As a writer, writing children is never easy and you need to ensure you get the speech and attitude right. Using the innocence of a character though is a brilliant way to inform the readers. It provides a non-threatening way of teaching. Readers don’t realise they are learning with the character.

Small characters have to be written in-depth.

One of my favourite part characters in a book is Sirius Black from Harry Potter. As a character, he features in a couple of books, other than this he is mentioned in name only.

The legend of Black is developed early on in the book. In the beginning, we are led to think of him as an evil character. As the stories develop we find we were wrong and I for one fell in love with him. When we learn to love him, he was taken away from us.

Even though he had a small part, compared to other characters in the series, he is still a major character. Black interests me as I believe he was one of the most complex characters in the books.

When he is taken from the story, we realise there was such a small part of his story revealed. You as readers are left wanting more about him. I would like to hear the stories of his younger years at Hogwarts.

The depth that Rowling went into when designing his character, is what made him so memorable.

As writers, the main characters are not the only ones that need depth. Well, developed side characters can have as big an impact on the story as the main protagonists. Writers should design the side characters with as much detail as the main characters. Whether this makes it into the story is irrelevant. You as a writer must know all your characters deeply.

Don’t be afraid to write characters no one else has before.

You can read all the advice of writers and all the self-help articles. Sometimes the best thing you can do is go rogue. Write a character that no one else has before. Write them in a way, that people love them.

My favourite character of all time is none other than Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. If like me you have read the books and watch the series, you probably always see Peter Dinklage as Tyrion. The reason for this might be that Martin designed the character with Dinklage in mind. He is described as being a little less good looking in the books. However, it isn’t his looks that makes me love him, but his mind and wit.

Before Lannister appeared, the characters of dwarfs had been confined to fairy tales. Martin writes such a brilliantly complex character, as readers you forget that he is a dwarf. Not that you are allowed to forget, because Martin mentions that fact, through Lannister’s wit. The fact he is a dwarf is as much a part of him as his brilliant mind.

Martin took a character that no one else had considered writing. He wrote him with such skill and depth that most people were rooting for him in the end.

As writers, take a gamble with your characters. Write something that has never been written before. As long as the writing is as good as the idea, your book will stand out and shine. Most people will remember the character of Tyrion Lannister for years to come. We all can do this with one of our characters.

Characters in books can be many things. If you follow these five simple steps, you will start to create characters that can sustain your story. Writers write the story, the characters tell that story. Characters are essential to a writer’s and a reader’s journey. Write a character that is so good they can’t be ignored.

Thanks for reading. Click here to get a free copy of my blogging tips book.

Originally published in PublishousNow.

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