In the last two editions of this series, we talked about how to begin writing your novel and crafting the overall story. This edition, we'll be discussing how to develop dynamic characters. Characters are part of every story. Without characters, essentially, you have no story. Think about it. How hard would it be to tell a story without characters? Characters are vital to every story told.
When you start your journey to writing your novel, you'll be plotting out character arcs. A character arc is the journey, or story, your character travels throughout your novel. From beginning to end, your characters all have arcs. Even if the character is only in the book briefly, they have an arc. Let's look at the definition of a character arc and how we can apply it to your novel.
Character Arc Definition: A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story.
There are two key words or phrases in that definition that you need to really pay attention to. Transformation and inner journey. As you sit down to plot out your story, think about the following questions.
How will my character grow over the course of my story?
What event(s) will change the character?
Where does my character start and where will they end?
As you think about those three questions, start taking notes. Let's say, for example sake, you're writing a fantasy novel. You know, the classic hero goes on a quest and defeats a villain at the end, saving the entire land. There are dragons, battles, monsters, plot twists, and a love interest. Those are elements you want to add to your story as obstacles or devices for character growth. You've made your outline, you've plotted your book out, and you've got ideas for your hero and villain. We're going to focus on the main hero and the villain first.
You want your hero to save the day, right? That's the purpose of your story. So, going by the definition of the character arc, let's plot the hero out. Where does the hero begin? Is it humble beginnings? Is he\she born to be a hero or do they reluctantly accept the job? Are they a victim of circumstance thrust into a journey? If so, why?
From there, your hero must begin their quest. How will my character grow over the course of my story? and What event(s) will change the character? Your hero must overcome adversity, so ask yourself what challenges await them and how do they overcome them? What do they learn from them? Do these challenges make your hero stronger and prepare them to defeat the villain? How will the journey change the character into the hero? By deconstructing your story and evaluating your character, you'll be able to see how their arc progresses throughout their journey.
And, at the end of the story, we ask where will my character end? Does your character defeat the villain? Do they give their life to save the world? Do they live happily ever after with the love interest they met along the way? How do you see your hero at the end of their journey? What are their gains and losses?
These are great questions to ask, as they help define and develop a three-dimensional character. These questions go beyond What does my character look like?, as that question is part of who your character is and is usually described when your character is introduced. The questions you need to ask that we plotted out above are what makes up your character on the inside. When these points are defined within your story, your character seamlessly merges with the world they live in and pull your reader in. That's the goal, right? Ultimately, your goal is to tell a great story, but to keep your reader wanting to turn the page, your characters have to be well defined.
As for the villain of your story, you can ask yourself the same questions and define them in a similar way. However, a piece of advice you need to remember is this: your hero is only as good as the villain. What that means is that if you have a great villain, with great motivations, your hero will be believable and their journey will pull the reader in even more. Everyone wants to side with the hero, but if the villain is not developed well, the hero's journey will seem flat and boring. Another point to remember when creating your villain is this: a good villain never truly believes they are evil- they only believe what they are doing is right for them. So, it's all about perspective. Maybe your villain is motivated by a personal reason, which in the eyes of the hero (and the reader), make their deeds evil. However, to the villain, their motivation and reasoning (to them personally) is not evil. The villain has to think they are the good guy. Again, it's all about perspective and point of view.
Do you think your villain is an evil person, or is their motivation justified to them? Are they truly evil or do they emotionally act out based on their beliefs? They have to believe it, which in turn, will make them a formidable adversary to your hero. Just let that sink in. When you sit down to plot your story out, your characters are blank slates. They have no dimension or personality. It's up to you to define it for them. In doing so, you'll make them dynamic and memorable.
As for the secondary characters, they are created in a similar way, but their journey is more or less told and not completely shown. This isn't always the rule, but your book is (usually) from the main character's point of view (POV ), so you have to tell their arc to the main character, who will then relay it to the reader. How do you do this? There are several ways, but the best way is dialogue.
Think about this for a minute. Your hero sets out on their quest and meets a traveling companion who will accompany them. This companion isn't the main character, so they explain where they come from, thus filling in their backstory. They travel along with the main character, so their journey more or less is the same. Their motivation may not be the same, but you can convey this through dialogue. Then, as you wrap up the story, your secondary character(s) journey wraps up. It's all told through the main character's point of view, so the reader sees the secondary character(s) as the main character does. They are there for support, so use them to do just that.
If the book is written in first-person perspective, the author or narrator is telling the story and is the main character. The above rules still apply, but the story framing is slightly different, as the entire story is told from the main character's point of view. Be it the author, the narrator, or the story's main character, when a story is written in first-person perspective, the character still has an arc and still grows from the journey.
No matter what perspective the story is written in, the rules for creating dynamic characters remain the same. Your characters are there to connect with the reader and to help tell the story. As long as you, the writer, believe in your characters and take the time to develop them- your readers will connect with them and believe in them too. The best thing you can do is sit down and figure them out. Take notes. Ask yourself the questions asked above. Write out personality traits and incorporate them into your story. As each page is turned, remember your characters are living, breathing entities. The more your flesh them out, the stronger they will be. If you're having trouble developing them, read the following quote:
That's great advice. I wish I had come up with it, but that's the great thing about being a writer. You assemble so much knowledge from so many sources, that with practice, it all naturally falls into place. The more you develop your writing process, and the more you keep writing, the easier everything becomes. From structuring your novel, to developing dynamic characters, everything does get easier to convey when you sit down to write. How you write your characters and develop them into your story is totally up to you. It's your story and your characters, so get to writing.
Stephen J. Semones
This has been part three in a series of writing tips for aspiring writers. If you found this helpful, please take a moment and share. This article is not to be copied, edited, or reproduced without written consent from its author. Copyright (c) 2017 Stephen J. Semones