7 Steps to Better Character Development

Brought to you by your in house book worm, A.C. Haury.

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There are few things that bother me more in the world of books and literature than flat, uninteresting characters. I am a big fan of deep character development. As an author you should know your characters almost as well as you know yourself. After all, you are their creator. This brings to mind a conversation I had with a colleague of mine, who was so excited after reading my first novel, Shadows of Morrow, about how extensively that I had developed my characters. Now that I am writing my sequel to the first novel, she often asks, “How are the Morrow’s doing?” And I respond as if the Morrows are people both she and I are good friends with. I was so surprised at this reaction because she is a certified bibliophile, and I am always of the opinion that my book and characters could use more development. Fully developed characters have ups and downs, good days and bad, and traits that are attractive and flawed, all at the same time – much like you and I.

Throughout the course of writing my novel, my characters evolved quite a bit, until I was satisfied that they not only served their purpose in the book, but that they were also realistic as well. When developing characters, there are some key things I look to enhance. Read on for a look at how you can further develop your characters, and add some flavor to your work in progress.

1. Flaws

If your character does not have any flaws, you haven’t developed them enough. Everyone has their own sets of positive traits as well as flaws. Flaws make characters seem realistic. The world isn’t divided into good and bad people. Everyone has a combination of both inside. Some of my favorite character flaws include nail biters, characters who can’t keep secrets, chronic arguers, and insomniacs. Flaws don’t have to be a bad thing. They can make your character seem more like the rest of us. Take it from me, the nail biting, workaholic, office supply hoarding writer and author. Without our flaws, we would all be very boring people, indeed, and when I read about boring characters… Well, this is the result:

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2. Interests

Everyone has their own sets of likes and dislikes. Make sure you clearly define what your character’s interests are. This helps the reader more clearly identify with your characters. For example, Blake Morrow enjoys reading, playing video games, and watching history documentaries, while his cousin Shane has never cracked a book, loves skateboarding, and falls asleep whenever Blake puts on the History Channel. Variety is the spice of life. Make sure that your characters have their own personality. When I run into the same personality across multiple characters… well, it goes something like this….

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3. What Makes Them Different?

I’ve read many books where I have trouble differentiating between certain character’s behavior. While some characters will have some similarities and like interests, there should be some discernible differences as well. Get down to the nuts and bolts and determine what makes your characters tick. Stay clear of mundane characters, and give everyone a bit of personality. When I come across a well rounded character that has flaws, but is still likable and makes me want to know how their story ends… This is happening in my head…

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4. Language

Another thing that annoys me to no end is when character’s all sound the same. When I talk, I am not going to sound the same as when you talk. I will use different words, have a different dialect, and even react differently than you would. If your character is from an area of the world with a distinct accent, don’t be afraid to add that into the story. Each character should also have it’s own brand of vocabulary.

For example, let’s say you have a story with four major characters. We’ll name name them Greg, Sue, Lois, and Phil. Greg is killed suddenly in a devastating skiing accident while visiting Colorado. Lois, who is from San Diego, reacts, “Oh, no! How horrible! We used to work together!” Phil, from Brooklyn, NY reacts, “Oh, no! How horrible – He was my best friend!” Sue, from London, England, reacts much the same, “Oh, no! How horrible – I was secretly in love with him!” While each differed a tiny little bit, each still started with “Oh, no! How horrible!” The point is, not everyone reacts the same, and Greg had a variety of relationships with each of his friends, so they would each respond in their own way. Would you expect a former co-worker to react the same way as your best friend or potential love interest? Probably not. When I encounter this kind of repetition in novels, my reaction is something like this.

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5. Cause and Effect

According to Newton’s laws of motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Make sure that that your character’s actions and reactions are realistic. Take into consideration what is driving them and what their final destination is. Let’s go back to talking about our mock character Greg. Dearly departed Greg. Poor Greg. In our story, the local news reports that Greg was in a skiing accident where he was going down the bunny hills innocently enough, when the wind picked up and he was blown off the mountain side and subsequently eaten by a bear. So wait. Let’s get this straight. Play it safe Greg was enjoying his Colorado excursion by staying on the bunny hills. Far, far away from the edge of the cliff. How many miles per hour did the wind kick up? Was there a blizzard on the way? A typhoon, perhaps? No. Make sure that your story makes sense. Please. I don’t enjoy making this facial expression:

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6. Where Are All the Normal People?

Have you ever read a book where everyone is just so ridiculously perfect? What planet does this author live on? I don’t know about you, but in my world, there are people who don’t cover their mouths when they cough, hardly anyone has a size 2 dress size, and zits definitely happen. Let’s get realistic with our characters. A little dysfunction can make them charming and down to earth… or if you’re up for the task… a lot of dysfunction could make for one truly neurotic character. Mix it up… you might be surprised with how realistic your characters truly are. Please don’t make readers like me go batty with the lack of normal people in your book. For example:

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7. What Are They Motivated By?

Every character is motivated by something. Your job is to determine what their motivator is. Are they trying to get that big promotion at work? Has it always been their dream to visit the Swiss Alps? Or is it something darker? The key is to figure out what your characters are motivated by. And yes they have to be motivated by something… even if they are confused, there is something that is confusing them. Just please don’t alienate your readers by confusing them without resolution by the end of your book. It will look something like this:

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Do yourself a favor and keep a notebook or log of your character’s traits, skills and flaws. This will help you when you’re writing your book. Your brain is going to be busy with plot turns, prose, and editing; help your process along by keeping record of your character’s development. After all, short of a great plot, there are few things that can add to a book’s charm and attraction than well developed, interesting, and quirky characters. By the end of your book, if you’ve developed your characters, you deserve a round of applause. You make me so proud 😉

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Please note that all gifs were obtained from Tumblr and I own nothing but the words on the page 😉 Hope you enjoyed!

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3 thoughts on “7 Steps to Better Character Development

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