Writing Characters and Character Development

Writing Characters: How to Create Complex Characters5 min read

by Wadzanai Mufunde
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Character development can be a difficult part of the writing process. Writing characters that are both fresh and original can seem like a daunting task. I’ve broken down the steps needed to create complex, compelling characters.

Give them a name that fits

Choosing names is one of my favourite parts of writing fantasy, as I’m not confined to everyday names. No matter your genre, however, your characters should have names that fit their personality. This isn’t to say you should choose a name with a meaning that matches.

What I mean is if you’re writing a YA novel about a sixteen-year-old girl, then perhaps Maggie may suit her better than Margaret. It’s more personal and less formal. Of course the name they choose will also depend on the setting and time period. If the novel is set in the Tudor period, for example, then Maggie may feel out of place.

Learn how they speak

Ensure your characters use an appropriate vocabulary that suits their age and background.

Writing characters that all speak the Queen’s English is not realistic. Some may have a rough background after having lived in the slums. It would be terribly out of place for them to speak in a posh manner. Instead, give them their own slang. 

Unless your five-year-old supporting character is some kind of prodigy, don’t give them a fancy vocabulary with lots of big words. Keep it simple, but don’t resort to baby language either.

Give them a goal

Writing characters with purpose is very important. What does your character want to achieve? Perhaps they want to save the world, or wed their true love. Maybe they want to dethrone the evil king. Whatever your character’s goal, make sure it is their driving force. This will ensure interesting character development.

Give them a motivation

Why does your character want to dethrone the evil king? Perhaps the throne doesn’t truly belong to the evil king, or perhaps your character doesn’t believe the evil king deserves his title due to his cruelties. Whatever the reason, make them interesting, compelling and relatable.

Interview your characters

You need to know your characters inside and out. One way to do this is to ask them a list of questions. I’ve compiled a list of interview questions you should ask your characters.

Have a look. Make sure you answer the questions as your characters, not as a writer.

A character’s history is very important as each event has shaped who they are. But don’t be tempted to detail every memory or experience. It’s good to know their history, but it should only be included in the novel when it aids the plot. 

Give them flaws

Writing characters that are perfect is dull. No one is perfect, and your character shouldn’t be either, even if they are the main protagonist. To make your character realistic it is important to give them some weaknesses.

Perhaps they are a king but they have agoraphobia and can’t bring themselves to speak in public. Perhaps they are a terrible swordsman or battle strategist and have to lean on the talents of others. Maybe they are prone to selfishness and often cheat on their spouse.

Whatever their flaws, make them an important part of the story, and if possible help your character grow out of some of them as they develop. 

Give them interesting talents and interests

Everyone is good at something. Some of these talents may help us get jobs, and others may remain as hobbies. Your character should have both types of talents and interests.

Try to make them intriguing. A love interest in a romance novel who plays the piano or enjoys reading the classics has been overdone. Perhaps they enjoy collecting something unusual like butterflies, or seemingly nerdy like miniature figurines.

Just like flaws, giving your characters talents or interests that tie well into the plot is important. Of course, this doesn’t have to be the case for every single talent.

Know what they would sacrifice

Who would your character walk through fire for? What would they do to keep their loved ones safe? It’s important to know what drives your character and who they truly care for so that you can anticipate their reactions to certain situations.

Know when they draw the line

Giving your character a moral code is crucial to character development. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to have an admirable moral compass, but every character needs to know where they stand. 

Perhaps they’re the sort of person who would sacrifice their life for a loved one, but not a total stranger. Or perhaps they would never take a life to save another person’s life. Perhaps they don’t believe the death of a few justifies the needs of the many.

Show their inner conflict

As I’ve already stated, all of your characters, particularly your protagonists, should have some kind of goal. Something should keep them from that goal, but it doesn’t always have to be an external force.

Perhaps something within that character is preventing them from achieving their goal. In such cases it is important to depict this inner turmoil, usually through short inner monologues, or even through interactions with other characters.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are a lot of things to consider when writing characters. To ensure strong character development, you should know the inner workings of that character’s mind. Know what core values they hold dear, the people and ideals they would sacrifice for. Give them flaws, talents, and hobbies to make them as believable as you can.

Further Reading

  1. Writing Cooperative – 8 Rules to Write Characters That Don’t Suck
  2. Masterclass – How to Develop a Fictional Character
  3. Self-Publishing School – Character Development

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