The Three Essentials for Character Development

Whatever else a writer seeks to do with their work, the thing readers will care about the most are your characters. I have, rather strangely, been building up everything else and have found the process of making my own make-believe world and plot so fascinating, I could easily forget the characters themselves, and why their particular stories mattered. Thus my fiction tends to be…not exactly cold, but half-thawed and waiting for an oven’s heat. It is in characters, their suffering and clashing personalities and heartfelt needs and desires, where fiction finds its true potency.

Here are three questions I have slowly been learning to ask, the three most essential questions for the most essential reason to write fiction. If you do nothing else to deepen your own characters, ask these questions and answer them in as much detail as you can:

1. What makes them winsome or likable, or at least interesting?

2. What are their flaws?

3. Why should your readers care about them and where their story goes?

Answer these, and you are off to a good start on making your characters come to life. They will start to get more relatable, more understandable, and become a way for author and reader to connect in a profound way. They will form the core of a story that matters, a story that goes somewhere and gets us invested.

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2 thoughts on “The Three Essentials for Character Development

  1. Nice. I would add, too, that some characters are deliberately meant to be dislikable. They’re essentially there to make life rough on the other characters. A good example that comes to mind for me are the whiny people in horror movies, or the snooty ones in emergency scenes that deliberately do the opposite of what the hero tells them to do. In instances where one of these unlikable characters has a really long role in the story, it’s also important to include elements that contrast the negative ones, which helps keep them more dynamic. A great example I have for that is Jaime Lannister. Everyone in the story hates him, because he’s the Kingslayer, yet you don’t find out until later that maybe he wasn’t so terrible after all.

  2. Very good point, Janden. You’re absolutely right about characters and likability, or lack thereof. I was thinking more along the lines of protagonists (sorry, should have made that clearer), but you’re right — there’s definitely a place for characters like Jaime.

    Actually, Jaime is an interesting example. He was not given any point of view chapters until his more likable aspects could start bubbling to the surface and manifest in his actions (questioning his relationship with Cersei, and his dialogues with and defense of Brienne spring to mind). Until then, readers saw him as an arrogant, kill-happy, incestuous lout. Only when he could show his good side did Martin start telling a little of the story from his side.

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