Become a Good Judge of Character...Development

Nisha Tuli
April 18, 2023
April 20, 2023

Characters are almost inarguably the most vital part of your story. Sure, you can have a great plot and strong world-building, but if you don’t make your reader care about your characters, then chances are the rest of that stuff will fall flat. 

Characters are the thing that turn an okay read into a book your readers won’t be able to put down. 

So how do you create a character that makes them come back for more? By ensuring they have good character development, of course. 

But what does that mean? So glad you asked. In this article, we’ll go over what character development is, how to develop a character, and the things you can do to ensure you’ve created got the most memorable character possible. 

Definition of Character Development

So let’s start with what character development actually is. 

Character development is the gradual transformation and evolution of a character over time. This essential component is crucial for creating believable, relatable, and memorable characters. Character development happens in various ways, including physical, emotional, psychological, and social changes. It allows your audience to connect with the character and understand their motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and overall personality.

Character development typically occurs through a series of events and experiences that challenge and shape your character. These events may be positive or negative, and they force your character to confront their beliefs, values, and fears. As the character reacts to these situations, their attitudes and behaviors change, leading to character development. For example, a timid protagonist may become more confident and assertive after overcoming a series of challenges, while an arrogant antagonist may realize the error of their ways and become more empathetic.

Simple enough, right?

The Basics of Character Development

Now that we’ve defined character development, let’s go over some steps for actually developing that character. First, let’s build a character profile. 

Building a Character Profile

  • Start with the basics: Begin your character profile by jotting down information such as their name, age, gender, and physical appearance. This information provides a foundation for the character and helps you visualize them in your mind. You can look for images online if that helps bring them to life in your head. 
  • Consider their background: A character's background can significantly impact their personality, motivations, and goals. Consider their upbringing, education, family life, and cultural background. How have these factors shaped who they are today?
  • Define their personality traits: Consider the character's personality traits, such as their strengths, weaknesses, fears, and desires. Are they outgoing or introverted? Optimistic or pessimistic? Confident or insecure? Defining these traits will help you understand how your character reacts to different situations.
  • Determine their motivations: A character's motivations drive their actions and decisions. Think about what motivates your character. Is it a desire for power, love, acceptance, or revenge? What are their long-term goals, and what steps are they willing to take to achieve them?
  • Give them flaws: Flaws make characters more relatable and human. Consider giving your character a significant flaw or weakness they must overcome. This helps create tension and provides opportunities for character growth and development.
  • Create a backstory: A character's backstory provides additional context for their actions and motivations. Consider creating a backstory that explains why the character is the way they are. What experiences have they had that have shaped their personality, values, and beliefs?
  • Consider their relationships: A character's relationships with others can significantly impact the story's plot and their development. What are their relationships with family, friends, enemies, and romantic partners? How do these relationships affect their actions and decisions?
  • Develop their voice: Finally, consider how your character speaks and communicates with others. Develop their voice by considering their speech patterns, vocabulary, and tone. This will help make their dialogue authentic and engaging.

Establishing Goals and Motivations

Since goals and motivations are so important to creating a strong character, let’s look at these components separately. Knowing your character’s goals and motivations allows your readers to understand why your character is acting the way they are and provides a clear path for the story's progression. 

To help develop these traits, consider the purpose of your story. What do you want to convey to your readers? What kind of message or theme do you want to explore? Once you have a clear idea of your story's purpose, you can begin to develop your character's goals and motivations in a way that supports that purpose.

Things to consider when brainstorming character goals:

  • What do they want to achieve? 
  • What are their dreams and aspirations? 
  • Do they have any fears or desires that they want to fulfill? 

Questions to ask yourself when considering your character’s motivations: 

  • What drives them to pursue their goals? 
  • Is it a desire for power, love, acceptance, or revenge? 
  • Do they have a past trauma that has shaped their motivations?

For more about character goals and motivations, check out this article

Developing a Character Arc

Now let’s look at developing an arc for your character. 

  • Consider who your character is at the beginning of the story: What are their strengths and weaknesses? What motivates them, and what are their goals? Understanding your character's starting point is essential because it establishes the baseline for their arc.
  • Identify your character's flaws: Every character should have flaws they need to overcome. Consider the flaws your character has at the beginning of the story. What are they struggling with, and how are these flaws holding them back from achieving their goals?
  • Establish your character's motivation for change: Your character needs a compelling reason to change. It could be a traumatic event, a realization, or a relationship. Whatever it is, it needs to be significant enough to push your character to take action and push past their flaws.
  • Create obstacles: Every story needs obstacles, and your character's arc is no exception. Identify the challenges and setbacks that your character will face along their journey. These obstacles should be difficult enough to force your character to change and grow.
  • Show your character's progress: As your character faces obstacles and works to overcome their flaws, they should make progress towards their goals. Show how their actions and decisions reflect their growth and development.
  • Consider the turning point: There should be a turning point in your story where your character makes a significant decision or realization that changes the course of their arc. This turning point should be a moment of clarity for your character, where they finally understand what they need to do to overcome their flaws.
  • Conclude with a satisfying ending: Your character's arc should have a satisfying ending, where they have overcome their flaws and achieved their goals. This ending should be earned, based on the challenges and setbacks your character faced throughout the story.

Crafting an Authentic Voice

Once you’ve established your character’s arc, you’ll also want to examine how to create your character’s unique and authentic voice. 

Unpacking the Character’s Worldview

One thing that will impact your character’s voice is the personal worldview, so give some thought to what that looks like for your character and story. 

Start with their background: A character's background can play a significant role in shaping their worldview. Consider where your character grew up, their family background, and their education. 

Identify your character's core beliefs: What does your character believe about the world? What are their values and principles? What is most important to them and why?

Consider your character's experiences: Life experiences can have a significant impact on a character's worldview. Think about your character's past experiences, both positive and negative. How have these experiences shaped their beliefs and values? What have they learned from their experiences?

Examine your character's relationships: Relationships can also shape a character's worldview. Consider the people in your character's life and how they influence them. Who are their friends and enemies? How do these relationships impact their beliefs and values?

Look at your character's actions and decisions: A character's actions and decisions can reveal a lot about their worldview. Consider why your character makes the choices they do. What do these choices say about their beliefs and values?

Consider the cultural and societal context: The cultural and societal context can also shape a character's worldview. Consider the historical and cultural background of your story's setting. How do these factors influence your character's beliefs and values?

Explore your character's biases and assumptions: Everyone has biases and assumptions that shape their worldview. Consider your character's, both conscious and unconscious. How do these impact their beliefs and values?

Establishing Character Habits

Another method for developing a strong character with a unique voice is to think about their habits and quirks. Here are some things to consider when creating them:

Consider your character's actions: Habits are actions we repeat regularly, often without even thinking. Be thoughtful about your character's actions and create patterns. What does your character do consistently? What actions do they take without even realizing it?

Consider the reasons behind your character's habits: Habits are often formed as a response to a particular situation or experience. Consider what led your character to develop their habits. What need or desire does their habit fulfill? What does their habit say about their personality or backstory?

Look for positive and negative habits: Habits can be positive or negative, depending on their impact on your character's life. Give thought to the consequences of your character's habits. Do their habits help or hinder their goals? Do their habits lead to positive or negative outcomes?

Connect habits to backstory and personality: Habits can be an excellent way to reveal backstory and personality. Consider how your character's habits connect to their personality traits or past experiences. How do their habits reflect their values and beliefs?

Use habits to create conflict: Habits can be a great source of conflict in your story. Think about how your character's habits might clash with other characters or their goals. How might your character's habits create obstacles or challenges for them?

Avoid overusing habits: While habits can be a useful tool for creating a well-rounded character, it's important not to overuse them. Too many habits can make your character feel one-dimensional or predictable. Instead, focus on a few key habits that are relevant to your character's personality, backstory, and motivations.

As you're working through the process of creating your well-rounded and developed character, you’ll want to take notes and keep track of all the details you come up with. Using a tool like Dabble makes that easier by offering up a place to keep all your notes in one place. 

Even better, they’re right there and super easy to access while you’re creating your draft. You can flip back and forth, adjusting, deleting, or adding new details as you write. It’s really all rather convenient. As is the fact you can try it all free for 14 days and see how Dabble can fit into your productive writing process. 

Nisha Tuli

Nisha J Tuli is a YA and adult fantasy and romance author who specializes in glitter-strewn settings and angst-filled kissing scenes. Give her a feisty heroine, a windswept castle, and a dash of true love and she’ll be lost in the pages forever. When Nisha isn’t writing, it’s probably because one of her two kids needs something (but she loves them anyway). After they’re finally asleep, she can be found curled up with her Kobo or knitting sweaters and scarves, perfect for surviving a Canadian winter.