5 Character Development Tips That Will Make You A Better Writer
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Do you want to know how to improve your character development and take your writing to the next level?
The aspect of your book that determines if it’s worth reading or not is its character development. Your book’s plot is what makes readers want to read it, but its character development is what keeps them reading.
We as authors have to create ways for readers to connect and identify with our characters. If we don’t, our novels ultimately feel stale and one dimensional.
I’m sure you’ve read loads of books where you just didn’t care enough about the characters to finish reading them. Maybe you did finish them, but only because you forced yourself to or because the plot was too good to not know the ending.
Regardless, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to read these books again or recommend them to a friend or family member.
This scenario is precisely why so many authors fail.
But don’t worry!
You are reading this article, which means you understand the importance of writing strong character development that your readers will love.
You’ve already taken the first step to becoming a bestselling author! Ready to take the next one?
Great! Let’s begin.
Importance of good character development
Have you ever read a book and found yourself dozing off and having to re-read pages? Have you ever had to force yourself to pick up a book you’ve been reading just so you can say you finished it?
These are some of the worst experiences you can have as a reader and often times the author isn’t even aware of it. This is because the author didn’t place enough importance on good character development.
The most important aspects of your book that drive your story are the characters. You can have the best story idea and write the best plot anyone has ever read, but if the characters don’t stand out to the reader, then neither will your book.
In fact, the exact opposite is also true. If you write compelling characters that readers fall in love with, then you can get away with a more generic plot, or a less polished writing style.
Your readers come back to your book time and time again because they feel a connection to your characters and have to know if they can overcome whatever conflict is facing them.
How to develop diverse personalities
The first thing you have to do when writing good character development is diversify your cast of characters. If every character’s thoughts and actions mirror too closely to one another, then their identity gets lost.
This most commonly happens to newer writers because they inadvertently infuse too much of themselves into every character. It’s perfectly acceptable to include pieces of yourself, but you have to include enough contrast so that each of your characters can stand on their own.
If you find yourself going down this path, try imagining all of your family and friends sitting together at the dinner table. Then introduce a controversial topic such as politics.
What does the result look like? Where do the conversations go? What sides do different people take and how strongly do they each believe in their stance?
This scenario illustrates the authenticity of diverse personalities and beliefs. It is your job to bring the same sense of diversity to your characters.
An easy way to start this process is to create opposites. If you have a character that is quick to react without thinking about consequences, then create another character that can’t react until every possible outcome is analyzed.
Once you have a cast of opposites, find some common interests between your opposing characters and sprinkle them into the mix lightly.
Take for example Jack and Ryan.
Jack is a veteran cop with a strong disregard for the rule book and police politics. Jack has his own way of solving problems and catching killers that often rubs his superiors the wrong way, something he takes pride in.
Ryan is a straight-A rookie fresh out of the academy and believes every rule should be followed to a T. Jack and Ryan are perfect opposites and the two of them are going to disagree and clash on most topics and situations.
But then you sprinkle in that both of them have a passion for football. This gives the two of them some common ground, which gives them a sense of authenticity while also highlighting their other contrasting views.
If you want to take this a step further, you could make Jack a Bengals fan and Ryan a Steelers fan. The two teams are major rivals and would create plenty of opportunities for you to write interesting dialogue and character development.
How to utilize character flaws
No one is perfect. Each of us have our own flaws and weaknesses. For some of us, these come in the forms of addiction, such as smoking, drinking, drug abuse, or even our diets.
As an author, it is your job to create realistic and relatable characters. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to give your characters a weakness or flaw that your readers might also have.
If you take Jack, the veteran cop from the previous example, and make him a pack a day smoker that is trying to quit, you’ve successfully given him a relatable flaw.
It doesn’t matter if your readers don’t smoke themselves because most people at least know someone who does. The struggle to quit is common among families and readers will connect with Jack more if he isn’t perceived as perfect.
An interesting way to utilize the opposite approach is to create a villain that really irritates your readers, then make that person seem perfect for the vast majority of the book.
If done correctly, the fact that the villain seems perfect will only make your readers hate them more. Then, when the villain’s flaws and weaknesses are revealed near the end, a sense of triumph and satisfaction will sweep over your readers.
Flaws and weaknesses don’t have to be physical or addictions. Psychological flaws can sometimes be even more effective, especially if you tie in the backstory that created that flaw for your character.
Take for instance a character that is rude to everyone he meets. He is selfish, standoffish, and most of the other characters hate him. Then you reveal to your readers that the character is struggling with depression after his wife died in a car accident last year.
The flaw mixed with the backstory and the sympathetic understanding that accompanies it creates great character development depth.
How to avoid extremes and maintain balance
Another pitfall newer writers make is creating characters that are one dimensional. Black and white character moralities create stiff and boring plots.
The key to good character development is creating grey areas because that’s where the fun is!
Achieving this can be as simple as throwing your character a little morality hurdle. Give them a tough choice that puts what’s best for them personally up against what is best for others.
Let the reader watch and feel the struggle the character has to endure as they ultimately reach the good decision. Your character doesn’t need to make bad choices, they just need to struggle with the right choice from time to time before choosing it.
For the villains, you can do the opposite. Show the reader a normal slice of your antagonist’s life, the part that makes you question if the antagonist is really all that evil after all. This gives your readers a chance to connect with your antagonist on a deeper level and may even illicit feelings of sympathy.
If you can make your readers feel something other than pure hatred for your antagonist, then you’ve successfully written good character development.
How to use the Polar Attraction Effect
One of my favorite techniques to utilize in my writing is what I refer to as the polar attraction effect. This is where you make your readers love a set of people at the beginning of a story before making them hate those very same people by the end of it.
The polar attraction effect works in both directions, meaning you can make your readers fall in love with people that they initially hated.
In my opinion, this technique creates the strongest examples of good character development. A great example of this technique in action is the TV show Sons of Anarchy.
I’ve never had more mixed feelings about a group of characters than I did when I first watched that show. You will hate and love the same characters over and over again, which brings a sense of unparalleled authenticity to each of them.
Effectively incorporating this technique into your own writing can be challenging at times and certain character actions will make it impossible for your readers to ever love them again.
Learning where the boundaries are and how far you can push and pull your readers’ emotions takes practice and a lot of trial and error. I would suggest starting by writing down your own morality lines in the sand that can never be crossed.
Then write characters that walk right up to that line and jump back and forth across it. See if you can make yourself sympathize with those characters and feel something positive about them again.
If not, pull the line back until you find that sweet spot. Your readers won’t be able to put your book down!
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My debut novel The Games He Plays is currently going through the publishing process and will be made available January 2020. It has been an exciting ride for me as I’ve transformed a 300 page manuscript into something I’m excited to share with you!
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About The Author
Hi, I’m Michael Wellington
I’m an author of mystery romance and romantic suspense and a blogger of book reviews, short stories, and author advice!