The character development in your story is vital for its selling.

Think about it.

Why do people continue to purchase books in a series? It’s not always because of the storyline.

In fact, more often than not, it’s because someone fell in love with the characters and care so much about them and their journey that they’re willing to follow them through the entirety of it.

That is why you need to put an emphasis on the character development in the book you’re writing – or preparing to write.

character development

Stick with us through this post and you’ll learn exactly how to accomplish character development in a way that will make readers think about your characters as if they were real people.

We’ll cover these main character development concepts in detail:

  1. Types of Character Development
  2. 12 Valuable Character Development Tips
  3. Character Development Exercises
  4. Character Arcs
  5. How to Create Strong Character Arcs

Once you nail all of these, you’ll be writing strong characters in no time.

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What is Character Development?

Character development is the process and execution of creating a fully rounded, complex, and lifelike character within your fictional writing with the purpose of making readers invested in them and their life or journey.

But before we get into the extensive details, I’m going to cover what constitutes a well-developed character as well as the different types of character development you may consider.

What is a Well Developed Character?

In order to have a well-developed character, they need a full backstory, personality traits reflective of it, realistic actions and emotions, along with being highly relatable to the average reader and as complex as a real person.

If you can’t imagine your characters as a real-life person, they’re not quite complex enough to be well developed. The key with character development is crafting your characters to feel as if they’re people you know who just live far away.

Get comfortable with thinking of them as real and you almost always will have a well-developed character.

Types of Character Development

When it comes to learning how to write characters – and write them well – you have to understand which type of character you’re dealing with.

These are the different types of characters to write:

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Secondary
  • Static
  • Foil
  • Stock
  • Dynamic/Round

Don’t be alarmed if you think this is a lot of different types of characters. After all, we all have people in our real lives who would fill these character “types” and that’s why it’s important for your book to include them.

Without them, you can’t go through with character development and expect a captivating cast.

But let’s help you understand what each type of character brings to the story.

Here’s a chart describing the types of character development you’ll have to execute on.

Character TypesCharacter Development
ProtagonistThis is your "hero" character, or the main character. Their main purpose is to solve a problem that affects them directly and push through against all odds. This is the character your readers want to root for.
AntagonistThis is your "villain." They're the bad guy who wants to stop your protagonist in order to fulfill their own agenda. Sometimes the antagonist can be an organization or group of people instead of a single character.
SecondaryThis is your "side" character/s. They get a decent amount of page time but are not the "stars" of your novel.
StaticThis is a character who remains the same throughout the story. They don't really change who they are or how they operate.
Foil/MirrorThis type of character is one that is the opposite of your protagonist. Their personality is different, their habits are opposite, and they often butt heads with the protagonist in non-lethal ways.
StockThis is much like "stock images" online. They're a character who is relatively flat and easily recognizable as a stereotype in fiction. An example would be the "bad boy" type or the "tough girl" or even the "comic relief" character.
Dynamic/RoundAll protagonists should be dynamic and round. These characters undergo physical, mental, or emotional changes throughout the story. They are complex, deep, and lifelike. All characters that are not stock or static should be this type.

With this information, you can better understand which character development to focus on with each of the fictional people you create.

12 Actionable Character Development Tips

Now that you know which type of character you’re focusing on here when writing your book, let’s dive deeper into the character development methods you can use and exercises to help you get it right.

#1 – Create a background for each character

Our realities are shaped by where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go.

That being said, the one with the most influence on our lives is where we’ve been – our past.

The same is likely true for your character. Based on what their life was like prior to the start of your novel, they’ll have different interests, quirks, fears, and more.

Your job is to fill out what their life has looked like up until the beginning of your book.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
Fill out a character development sheet so you can understand your characters as full-fleshed people instead of just two-dimensional beings you created.

Cover these main ideas when crafting your character’s background:

  • Their childhood (good, bad, poverty-stricken, spoiled, etc.)
  • Their parents (divorced, never married, one missing, both missing)
  • Their friendships
  • Their hobbies and interests as a kid versus now
  • Their motivations for feeling the way they do about any given situation
  • Their personality type and how it affects their actions

These are some basic elements you should understand about your character in order to shape their personality, opinions, and actions that appropriately fit their background.

#2 – Know your characters’ strengths and weaknesses

One of the biggest means of influence over your characters will be their strengths or weaknesses.

We, as humans, constantly face our strengths and weaknesses on a daily basis, even in the smallest of forms.

What your characters are good at and what they’re not great at will affect how they perceive different events, what actions they choose to take, and can affect their overall character arc (which we’ll touch on later).

If your character’s strength is talking to strangers and gaining their trust, this might be an asset for them throughout their journey. However, if that is your character’s weakness and they’re forced to do so, it can cause conflict for them.

These strengths and weaknesses will shape your character arc and the plot as a whole, so know them well before writing.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
Create a list of 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses for your characters. Make sure these play into the plot in order to cause conflict and gain sympathy from readers who can relate.

#3 – Create nervous ticks or habits

If you’ve paid attention to humans for long enough, you’re aware that we all have certain habits we don’t even realize we’re doing when we’re nervous.

Me? I pick at the skin around my nails. It’s a pain (literally) and I never notice I’m doing it until later.

This can be a key characteristic that will make your characters feel more real and help make them more relatable to your readers, which will make them want to give you those 5-star reviews.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
Make a small list for each of your characters. Write down 2 odd habits for each of them and decide which is their go-to (the one they do without even thinking about it) and which is made worse through nerves or anxiety.

#4 – No character can be perfect

It can be really hard to write your favorite fictional person as having flaws. After all, we want people to love them, right?

But a “perfect” character is not lovable – they’re hateable because it’s not realistic.

The more you try to make your character “flawless,” the less readers can relate and therefore, they’ll like them less. You have to build flaws into your character just like we all have drawbacks in real like.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
List 3 major flaws your character has that can actually become problems within your plot. Think about any bad habits they have, situations they dislike, or even personality traits that aren’t seen as “good” in order to craft these flaws in a realistic fashion.

character development tip

#5 – All characters need realistic motives

No matter which character they or what they want in your story, they need to have a real and valid reason for feeling this way.

Take He Who Shall Not Be Named from Harry Potter for example.

Voldemort (woops!) wants to kill Harry. That much we should all know – even if you’ve never read or seen the movies. But if he was just trying to kill Harry Potter for the sake of murdering a child, it wouldn’t’ make sense.

Yes, he’s evil, but he also has a valid reason for wanting him dead, right?

He has to kill Harry Potter because he’s the only person who was able to defeat him before – and because the prophecy says so.

If your characters – no matter how minor they are – don’t have a motive that makes sense, readers will be pulled out of the story and end up questioning what’s happening, and not in a good way.

This is largely how plot holes arise so in order to avoid them, stick to this character development method.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
When coming up with your antagonist’s motives, list at least 2 ways in which they’re valid. For Voldemort, it would be the fact that Harry can kill him and that he wants to rule the wizarding world.

Your bad character has to have at least 2 strong reasons for opposing your protagonist and they should make sense given their history.

#6 – Give each character a unique feature

This is particularly for those of you writing Game of Thrones-esque novels with a large number of characters, but it’s important for others as well.

When writing a book, you want your readers to easily visualize and differentiate the cast. You want each character to stand out as individuals.

A perfect way to do this is to give each person an identifiable feature.

For example, let’s use Harry Potter again because you probably know what the main characters look like.

Harry has glasses. Hermione has fuck teeth (up until she has them shortened a bit too much – and this is only in the books for those of you about to argue), and Ron has flaming red hair.

These are very distinct features that can help you picture them as wildly different characters.

Now, you don’t have to give each and every character some crazy hair color or style, but try not to have your entire cast look the same.

If you have a main character with brown wavy hair, have the next with blonde curly hair, etc.

Keep in mind that siblings can certainly look similar!

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
Create a spreadsheet or other document that lists all your characters and document their features. If you have two characters who spend a lot of time together in your book and you see they look similar, alter their appearance until they’re differentiable.

Take my own spreadsheet for my work in progress below as an example.

character development spreadsheet

#7 – Develop a wide variety of personality types

Meaning, don’t create all of your characters to be the “dark and sarcastic” type or the “tough guy” type.

You have to have a wide variety of personalities – just like in the real world.

You can even back up their personality with real-life psychology. As an example, I have two characters who both have a tragic background.

However, they don’t process that trauma in the same way. One character takes on a very withdrawn approach while the other hides his pain with humor. This gives them very different personalities despite having similar histories.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
Reference your character’s backstories and do a little research into possible coping mechanisms and how that can affect their personality. Develop it from there in order to have realistic personalities that differ.

#8 – Match your character’s history with the effects of it

This is when some research will come into play, which should be required anyway. Looking into some psychological effects of trauma can help you accurately and realistically dive into character development.

Now, not all characters go through trauma, but there are other big life events that can shape how they behave.

If you have a character whose parents were very strict growing up, they may be a bit of a rebel and lack the decision making abilities others have – mostly because they never learned how since their parents made those choices for them.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
Since you know your character’s backstory, do a little research into how those specific struggles or realities can shape a person’s psyche in order to accurately and realistically craft their behavior.

#9 – Make secondary characters foil types

This is largely to help with personality contract within your novel. Most of the time, this will happen naturally if you’re giving each character a unique personality but it’s great to keep in mind anyway.

If you have secondary characters (characters who get a decent amount of page time but are not main characters), craft their personality types to show the opposite of the main characters’.

Why? Because you want to firstly create more diversity and secondly, create some non-plot-specific conflict.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
Pinpoint your secondary characters and development them in a way that makes them clash or oppose your main characters in certain ways.

Think about what could annoy your main character the most and give your secondary characters some of those habits or personality traits.

#10 – Give each character a distinct voice

We all speak differently and that means your characters should too. Depending on where they’re from, they could have different accents, slang, and even phrases they tend to use regularly.

Think of a friend of yours for a minute. What are some specific phrases they use a lot?

It’s likely you were able to think of something in just a few seconds because it’s so unique to them and something they say a lot.

Your characters should be developed in the same way.

If you write two characters from very different areas of the world and they have the same style of speaking, your audience will be pulled out of the story because it’s not realistic. Their voices have to be consistent and not the same.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:

These tips can ensure your characters speak differently:

  • Choose a slang word each character likes to use
  • Use different wording for the same meaning like “apologies” versus “I’m sorry” or “my bad”
  • Use unique sentence structures to give each character a unique speaking rhythm
  • Make sure your more educated characters speak like it and your less educated use simpler words and phrases
  • Create phrases similar to “knee-high to a grasshopper” with unique meanings for your characters’ specific regions
  • Read their dialogue out loud in the voice you image they have and make changes if necessary

The point of giving your characters unique voices is to ensure your readers imagine them as real people instead of two-dimensional beings living in paper.

#11 – Create a diverse cast in every way

I’ll be honest, there is a very real problem in literature when it comes to diversity.

You can debate this all you want, but coming from someone who reads many books, it’s a very real issue that only you and other writers going forward can correct.

Your book should be just as diverse as the real world.

If you don’t have characters with varying skin, hair, or eye colors along with varying body types, disabilities, and even mental illnesses, your characters are not diverse enough.

You do not have to write a book about these things in order for you to include them in your novel.

For example, one of my main characters has high levels of anxiety. His storyline does not revolve around this mental illness, but it is there, seen, and can affect his plot.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
Look through your characters and their appearances as well as their personalities. If there isn’t clear diversity amongst them, create it.

You want to make sure you are allowing diverse readers to feel included, heard, and represented.

#12 – Avoid stereotypes

This is really a “do not do” tip versus a “must do” tip. The reason for this is because so many writers feel as though they need a “side character” (or even a main character) but is too lazy to do the real work.

Which means they create a stereotype of a specific type of person that can oftentimes be harmful without the author even knowing.

A great way to ensure you never have offensive stereotyped characters is to use a sensitivity reader or make sure you have a diverse group of beta readers who can speak on behalf of the characters you’ve developed.

What is a Character Arc?

A character arc is used to describe the inner and even outer journey, which can be physical, mental, emotional, or otherwise that a character experiences throughout the duration of the story or plot.

You thought you were done learning about character development, didn’t you?

You’re not! In addition to crafting well-rounded characters, you also have to think about including arcs for them.

How to Create a Character Arc

At the very least, your protagonist, or main character, requires an arc for their storyline and journey to be captivating and satisfying for readers.

As an example, I’m going to use Harry Potter from that series simply because it’s widely known and his character arc even within the first novel is distinct.

Harry Potter starts the novel as an 11-year-old kid suffering from emotionally abusive relatives who care for him due to his parents passing away.

But by the end of the movie, Harry has discovered he’s a wizard, learned of his prominence in the wizarding world, and even taken on Voldemort himself (well, sort of).

This character arc is distinct in that his mental and emotional journey from start to finish is wildly different. Harry Potter is not the same at the end as he was in the beginning – and this remains true throughout each book in the series.

When your character comes out at the end of the book as a transformed person in certain senses, it’s a character arc.

Here’s an example of what a character arc looks like on paper and how you can utilize plot elements in order to further your character’s development.

character development arc explanation

Your Next Steps – But Only if You’re a Serious Writer

It’s time to get serious about your book. If you’re here, it means you want to learn how to write your book to the best of your ability.

That’s exactly what we can help with.

We put together this FREE training for you to understand what it takes to write and publish a book.

Make sure to watch this because you can create incredible characters all you want, but they’ll never see the light of day without publishing.

Join your FREE training and learn how you can go from developing characters to a full book – in as little as 90 days if you really focus.

Just click the button below to watch!

 

What is your favorite part about character development? Which characters of yours are you most proud of and why? Comment below!

Bella Rose Pope

Bella Rose Pope

Bella is the Content Creation Specialist here at Self-Publishing School where she tends to the blog and creates informative Youtube videos. She's a Wisconsin native and lover of writing, reading, learning, and continuous self-improvement. Aside from tapping away at the keyboard, she loves writing on her own website, creating fiction writing videos, plants, eating anything with cheese, playing with her adorable pup, and trying new things. Giver her a follow:Twitter Instagram Facebook

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