Character Development and Character Arcs

Character development is the heart of our stories. It makes your reader connect to your story emotionally and brings your plot to life. Our stories are nothing without our characters. The important part of character development is change. We want our characters to change and develop so our story can develop and be more impactful. Let’s look at how to develop our characters and what character arcs are.

  • Goals and motivations. Every character needs to have a goal to work towards, even if that’s just to be left alone. But moving beyond that, we need to examine why. Why does your character have that goal? What are their motivations? Is it ambition, revenge, or selfishness? Has he lost his job and he’s reevaluating life?
  • Up the stakes. What happens if they don’t reach their goal? What are the consequences of what they’re doing? Does your character have a deadline they have to beat? Really get your readers invested in what’s going on by raising the tension.
  • Have external plot happen to the character. Things like losing a loved one or a job would greatly affect your character and force them to change and adapt. Change is what makes our stories dynamic.
  • Each character should have a flaw that actually affects them. Not something cute like being clumsy. Flaws make your characters relatable and more realistic.
  • Show, don’t tell. Develop your characters through their actions and dialogue. Don’t just say they are smart, show them figuring out the villain’s plans before anyone else does. Don’t say he’s bad, show him deceiving an old widow’s out of her money. Also use what they say and how they talk for characterization. How we communicate says a lot about how we grew up and who we are as a person.
  • Use other characters as foils or mirrors for your main characters. You can show another character with the same flaw, but who deals with it in a very different way. Or if one character is having a flat arc for a while, meaning they don’t change, you can develop a secondary character so the story isn’t flat.
  • Character arcs. Character arcs can be positive, negative, or flat. Positive and negative arcs are both dynamic, meaning the protagonist changes throughout the arc. In a positive arc, he grows and improves. In a negative arc, he can’t overcome his fatal flaw and suffers tragedy, whether physical or emotional or both. In a flat arc, the character doesn’t change. This is common for serial characters like Bond or Sherlock Holmes, where their personality and flaws stay the same from book to book.

Our characters should change and grow, that is what readers can relate to and like to see. Let your reader see your characters struggle with a flaw and learn to improve themselves. Dynamic arcs make dynamic stories. Which type of arcs do you like writing best? Share below and happy writing.

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

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