Characterization: Developing Characters that Readers Connect With

Don’t leave your characters faceless, mere silhouettes. Give them LIFE: fears, wishes, loves, hatreds, doubts, hopes, and dreams. Give them FACES.

Writing, for sure, isn’t easy. One of the most difficult things to master in writing–for me, at least, when I was starting out–was character development. You know: writing “cool” characters. By that, I mean characters who you care about, you want to root for, and who you find interesting enough to guide you through a novel of some 300+ pages. Here are some tips for character development. Consider them some options to choose from when creating YOUR next hero. Or sidekick. Or whoever!

  1. YOUR CHARACTER CAN BE PULLED INTO ADVENTURE AGAINST HIS OR HER WILL. Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, and even Peter Parker have at least one major thing in common: they are unwilling actors in the major events of their cultures. As Shakespeare wrote: “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” It’s a lot of fun to take a normal person and “trust greatness” upon them and see how they react. This is also a great way to get your readers to support your character, because the reader, being a normal person too, can sympathize with the unfortunate predicaments of your hero.
  2. THE SEARCH FOR REDEMPTION. If you follow my blog on a semi-regular basis, you’ve probably picked up that I’m a big fan of stories that highlight the human capacity for forgiveness, mercy, and redemption. Having a character who’s screwed up in the past trying to make things right and do better: who can’t relate to that? This concept is a timeless one, classic in the sense of the “little black dress.” It’s still around, and everyone accepts it, loves it, because it never grows old. It just…. works.
  3. MAKE YOUR CHARACTER AFRAID OF SOMETHING. And force him or her to confront that living nightmare, whether it’s heights, literally drowning, figuratively drowning in a post of responsibility, dreading the loss of someone dear…. This is a tried and true method to discover what your characters are made of. Don’t be afraid to let them show you: they will!
  4. FACING FAILURE. How do your characters react to failure and setbacks? Remember, your characters don’t HAVE to come out the better when those fears rear their nasty heads.
  5. GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS WHAT THEY WANT. Remember that old adage, “Be careful what you wish for?” We all have hopes and dreams. If your characters are to seem human in any way, they will do. Maybe, though, getting what they want isn’t really the best thing for them. Maybe it causes problems they didn’t anticipate ahead of time. Maybe, even, those dreams come to fruition can turn into their worst nightmares (see number 3.)
  6. DON’T EXPOSE A CHARACTER’S LIFE HISTORY ALL AT ONCE. Exposition is a tricky process. And it should be a slow one. We all have a past, and characters often have interesting ones that relate to their current frustrations and tasks. Don’t expose everything in one big scene. That’s boring, and it gets rid of all the tension, all at once, that would otherwise keep your readers invested.
  7. ALL THESE THINGS CONNECT! Remember, this is not an either-or scenario. Really developed, true characters–the ones who become household names like Frodo and Harry above–can fit into more than one of these categories. Don’t limit yourself. Be creative mix and match, and see what magic happens!

8 responses to “Characterization: Developing Characters that Readers Connect With

  1. Great article. I like to give all of my characters a unique problem they struggle with and a troubled past. It just really helps break down the fiction barrier and connect with your readers.

  2. Exposition is hugely important – how much to show and when. I totally agree about not giving too much information at once and find I’m often putting info in at draft stage and then culling much of it out to keep the readers interest.

  3. Great article! Thanks. Bookmarking now…

  4. Thank you so much for your blog, I am stuck trying to develop my characters. This is for my first book and your blog has been such a blessing!

    • I am so, so excited to hear it’s been a resource for you! 🙂 I hope it continues to help you. Writing doesn’t have to be as lonely as most of us make it out to be. A community to support you is very important.

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