Home > Fiction > Character Development

Character Development

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 18 Jun 2013 | comments*Discuss
Character; Characters; Development;

In a compelling work of fiction, characters never remain stagnant. Instead, they experience epiphanies, change as a result of tragedies, or uncover a new way of thinking. As an author, it's up to you to take your characters on a journey that will resonate with readers while staying true to your style and plot.

What to Leave Out

But in order to gracefully develop a character, you must give your readers all pertinent information while leaving other, less critical points, to their interpretation. Thus, you have to understand what to leave out and what to state. It's a difficult balancing act: say too much and bore your readership; say too little and leave them too bewildered to focus on your story.

One of the most effective ways to begin to tackle the tightrope act of developing characters while remaining pithy is to sketch a path for your character to walk before you begin your short story or novella. You don't have to be overly detailed; a simple outline (as in the one below) will do:

  1. Joseph, a 21-year-old hunter, kills a baby deer
  2. Worried about getting caught, he buries the deer's body in the forest
  3. Each year, he visits the gravesite
  4. He begins to obsess about the need for a tombstone for the deer and buys one
  5. He starts to tend to the grass around the tombstone
  6. Joseph begins to worship the dead deer, praying at the grave regularly
  7. One day while praying, Joseph is shot by another hunter, who buries his body next to that of the baby deer
  8. The cycle starts again, with the guilty hunter visiting the grave the next year

You've not only developed the outline for a gripping tale, you've also predetermined the journey Joseph must take in order to move your story along.

Take Your Character From A to Z

Using this outline, it's apparent that you will have to take Joseph from "A" to "Z", all the while staying true to his character.You must be cautious, though; plots that are too rich become cloying. Better to say just enough than to bombard your readers with extraneous details.

For instance, take these two sentences. Which one develops the character more succinctly?

1: Joseph felt like a fool for having shot the fawn; he stared at the carcass at his feet.

2: Joseph stared intently at the death he had wrought due to one foolish action.

Though both sentences are adequate representations of the moment after Joseph shoots the baby deer, the second implicitly carries more weight about Joseph. By rearranging words and images, the reader is drawn into Joseph's mindset in a less overt way in sentence number 2. Thus, the reader can actively interpret the scene, drawing his or her own conclusions instead of being explicitly told what to think.

As the character of Joseph changes and becomes more obsessed with the gravesite, the author must ensure that Joseph's actions are believable and fit his personality. Therefore, even though he's a hunter, he should show more than an iota of sensitivity (otherwise, he wouldn't tend to the deer's grave.) You can imply that sensitivity elsewhere in the story, with Joseph kindly helping a homeless man off a bus or absentmindedly patting a puppy in the park.

Again, how you choose to develop your characters is as important as the characters themselves. Move along their emotional, psychological, and/or physical developments with well-chosen phrases that engage the reader without leaving him or her bored or confused.

And, of course, if at any point in the development of your story you're unsure whether your character has appropriately changed or if your writing has become overly flowery, have a trusted (and honest) friend, editor, or colleague read over what you've written. Use this frank feedback to help you breathe life into your creation.

Remember - you hold the key to unlocking your characters' transformations, be they overwhelming or minute. Spend some time reworking your sentences and suddenly your characters will turn from two-dimensional creations to deep, realistic persons.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Shay_Marie
    Re: Learning to Think Like a Writer
    I'm a young women who's graduated high school, and not yet been able to go to collage, but I have a passion for writing, and I…
    24 October 2017
  • Elena
    Re: Plot vs. Character
    I've been studying screen writing for 18 but feel I never can learn enough. I want to master the craft - eventually.
    23 August 2017
  • Chris
    Re: Script Writing Dialogue and Description
    Many, many thanks for the crafting of this scientific and auspicious art form of creativity*** you are hitting the…
    29 July 2017
  • JCarlos
    Re: What is a Synopsis and How to Write One
    I have no problem with writing screenplays but when it comes to writing the synopsis I just can't seem to write it…
    28 May 2017
  • deepu
    Re: Creating Your Website
    Use the prologue to provide backstory. One way to use a prologue is to provide backstory on a character or several characters. A backstory…
    15 May 2017
  • Nikki
    Re: What is a Synopsis and How to Write One
    Am writing a book on an African language and I wanted to know if i have to write a synopsis.
    7 May 2017
  • Giles
    Re: Narrative Journalism
    Hi there You might be interested in Well Told - it's the first conference in the UK to be dedicated to narrative and longform journalism.…
    18 April 2017
  • vanweha
    Re: Learning to Think Like a Writer
    i am young man who recently finished his high school. i have that passion of becoming a writter but i am too vulnerable to…
    12 March 2017
  • Lexy
    Re: Informative Writing
    This helped me with my informative essay for English honors 1. This was very helpful thank you.
    27 February 2017
  • Xeptional Angel Emen
    Re: What is Microfiction?
    can I write a micro story that the ending isn`t actually the end, like keep my audience in suspense or I must complete the story to give it…
    27 February 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the ExploreWriting website. Please read our Disclaimer.