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3 Quick Tips On Effective Character Development (Plus 4 Key Questions)

Effective Character Development

Effective characterisation starts with good character development. Some writers insist that characters come to them ‘fully formed’ but I call BS. Good character development is not dictation. We are CREATING characters and honing our craft!

There are a few key things to keep in mind when developing your characters:

1) Make them relatable

Your audience needs to be able to connect with your characters on some level. If they can’t relate to them, they won’t be invested in their story.

By the way: note how the above DOESN’T say make your characters ‘likeable’. This is a red herring. Find out why, HERE.

2) Make them interesting

Your characters should be more than just flat archetypes. They should have quirks, flaws, and secrets that make them unique and interesting.

This will no doubt mean you may get feedback from others saying they don’t ‘like’ your characters. As mentioned in section 1) don’t worry about this, ever.

Another piece of feedback that should be disregarded is when someone says ‘I don’t care about your characters’. Click on the link to find out why.

3) Make them multi-dimensional

Your characters should feel like real people with dimensions beyond what’s immediately apparent on the surface. They should have backstories, motivations, and desires that influence their actions and decisions.

4 Key Questions For Great Characters

But how do we do all the above?? I would venture the key questions of character development are …

i) WHO are the people in the story?

Who relates to what B2W calls character role function. In other words WHAT they’re doing in the story – protagonist, antagonist, secondary, peripheral. Understanding what each role function means helps us as writers, but it also helps others engage with our writing.

ii) WHAT do they want?

Most writers know a protagonist has a particular goal and the antagonist wants to stop them getting it. We were all children once and most of us played ‘goodies versus baddies’ after all. (Yeah, I was always the baddie!).

Beyond that, things can get hazy. After all, some stories may not have an OBVIOUS villain or bad guy! Instead, that antagonist is just aberrant to what the protagonist wants, NOT evil.

In others, the antagonist may be the one with the goal or mission … and it’s the PROTAGONIST that gets in their way! This is most obvious in the Thriller genre, as I put under the microscope in my Thriller Screenplays book.

iii) WHY do they want it?

Character motivation is another important part of character development. This refers to WHY they want that goal in the first place.

A strong or noble motivation can make us forgive even the worst actions of antiheroes, or even understand why villains may do what they do.

Equally, weak motivation can make us lose patience with characters. Sometimes this will be because we’re unclear why the protagonist and antagonist are at war over something. Other times, that motivation feels stale or boring.

iv) HOW will they go about getting it?

NEWSFLASH: character and plot are inextricably linked. This is because we don’t watch movies or TV or read books ‘about characters’. We watch or read stuff ‘about characters who DO SOMETHING for SOME REASON’.

This means our characters have to go through various plot happenings – EVENTS – to get what they want and where they need to be. It is that simple … and that difficult to do!

Good Luck!

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