I think characters are the most important elements of a story.
I’ve read tons of novels I’ll never recommend (even if the plot was good) because the characters were stiff or utterly annoying. I’ve also stopped reading novels when I think the character has completely backtracked on character development.
What I’m trying to say is—if characters and their development are that important, you need to really focus on them when you craft a story. So, what’re some things to keep in mind when planning your novel?
#4—Pick the Type of Growth, and Don’t Overlap (Unless it’s to Highlight)
First things first!
What kind of growth will your characters go through?
You, as the author, should know the arc of your character long before starting the story. Is the main character a criminal who turns it around? Is the character a young boy going through a coming-of-age quest? Does the character grow to realize a fundamental wrong with their world?
Ideally, more than one character will grow throughout the tale—people don’t usually stay stagnant—and it’s best not to overlap the same themes over and over again.
If the main character is a criminal turning it around, you probably shouldn’t have the second lead doing the exact same thing. It gets boring to read. The only time I’d recommend doubling up on an arc is if the other person does things in the reverse or opposite, to highlight the arc of the main character.
For example, two criminals trying to redeem themselves—one succeeds, but one fails horribly. Now the redemption of the first character is all that more impressive and satisfactory.
#3—Know Your Characters, and Know What Will Change Their Mind
Your characters shouldn’t make decisions that contradict their whole personality, but they should be capable of change.
Have you ever discovered something that flipped your whole perspective?
I’ll tell you mine.
When I was growing up, everyone drank. Not a little bit. All the time. Especially my mother. I thought this was the norm—everyone drinks, and everyone conducts themselves similar to my mother and her friends. Morning, noon, night, it didn’t matter.
Then, when I was about 11 or 12, my mother started dating a guy I thought was really nice. He was well-spoken and polite, and thought things would work out. He didn’t drink all the time, which was weird to me, but I didn’t think about it until the first time he stayed at our house for the entire weekend.
He drank a ton on the Friday, and the kind, well-spoken man I thought I knew turned into a crazy person with an anger problem. He yelled, he started fights for no reason, and he smashed up half the kitchen.
While that may seem awful, no one was hurt. Instead, my mind was open. I suddenly realized that drinking changes people. When people are drunk they aren’t themselves. They’re lesser, in a way, and more out of control. I hadn’t realized it until then. I hadn’t even thought about it.
It’s these kinds of moments that fuel growth in someone, and that’s exactly what you want to capture in your writing. What will make your character go through their change? What will turn the criminal around? What will push someone to strive for excellence?
Batman had his parents killed by a criminal and he turned vigilante.
Knowing your character, and know what’ll change them, will influence the entire story. It’s best to know it ahead time!
#2—Have a Beginning, Middle, and End
I know this is going to sound silly, but some people forget that an arc needs all three steps.
You can’t show the epic change unless there was a clear starting point, and most readers will be irritated if a guy goes from being a criminal to a boy scout in two seconds. Allow your novel to breathe, and use every act of the story to help fuel the character development.
#1—Strong Dialogue, Stronger Actions
Dialogue helps shape a character’s personality, but nothing speaks louder than actions.
Can you imagine how different (and terrible) it would be if Batman saw his parents get killed and then later in life just told people he’s against crime in Gotham? And then that was it? I know you may chuckle, but that’s what we’re talking about here.
If your main character goes through an arc where he learns a skill, we want to see that skill in action. If you main character is a criminal-turned-hero I want to see him jump in front of an out-of-control bus in order to save that cat.
Actions propel the story! The character can say all kinds of things (and hopefully they’re interesting things) but if he never does a thing, the arc is weakened.
I definitely believe in outlines for stories, and if you want to outline strong character development, you’ll make sure to include actions that highlight the change.
And that about wraps it up! Hopefully these random nuggets help put things into perspective, or perhaps they were just interesting to think about. Either way, thanks for sticking around!
Now, if you want to see a criminal turn it around, check out my space opera, STAR MARQUE RISING!
Or if you want to see someone master some shadow magic, check out my fantasy, KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST!