I find character development can either make or break a story. Invincible heroes and everyday villains many can find boring, and people are quick to drop a story if some sort of connection can’t be made. Descriptives like hair color and attitude only go so far as well, and that’s why for me I wanted to go a bit further in my characters than just surface deep attributes.
When it comes to building a character for a story, it helps to have a process in doing it. For me, I want to know why they are there. Do they fulfill a requirement for the story, or are they just fluff? How important are they to the plot? Trying to make everyone have the spotlight is hard, and juggling a cast versus one central person may be that much harder.
But anyway, back to character development. I’ll be honest, for me, I try to draw something like a fantasy elf or human, and then am perfectly comfortable attempting to come up with a background for them. There are multiple sites on the web that can tell you how to create a character, but for me: I want to make sure my central cast has the following:
A character’s goal could be complex or simple. It could also change over time or due to circumstances. Whether you write by the seat of your pants or plot everything out on notecards, your characters should at least have well-defined goals and how they get fulfilled through the story’s progression. Living your life for God is certainly a goal, but so is getting that big promotion at work that you’ve been slaving away for.
This brings us to an obstacle. What is the thing or things in the way of your character reaching their goal? Maybe it is the creaking bones and joints of age, or the rival at work who may be underhanded (why not make the rival upstanding and completely nice for a change?). The obstacles can be fun to design for characters because you also have to find out how they overcome them (or do they?). For me, I try to at least have a minor and a major obstacle for each person.
Flaws can and probably should be different from obstacles. Unless it’s Jesus, nobody is perfect, and that should come through with the characters. This can tie in with relatability with readers when it comes to your character’s flaws as well. With the multitude of physical, emotional, and spiritual defects that we have, a wide range of flaws can present themselves as options. Some flaws can compound on each other though. A hoarding disorder can often come with a traumatic experience that sparked it, for example.
Features can make a character shine. They can be endearing like a habit of hiding a smile behind a hand, or a special pair of glasses that sets your character apart. Too many features may overwhelm the reader and disassociate them with the strange character. Nobody wants to hear about someone who becomes angry whenever they hear the letter ‘q’, but they may find a character interesting who only speaks in alliteration. There is a fine line between quirky and crazy that you have to walk in character development. Therefore, it’s vital to find a good balance of character traits in your writing.
Mix all this together, and you can take a surface-level, one-dimensional character into someone with depth and relatability. Suddenly, you have characters with who readers can laugh or cry, and identify with real issues. The world may be ending in your fantastical dystopian story, but if the family in it still has dysfunction in the midst of it, then it can draw the readers in. Argumentative siblings or strained familial relationships can mirror real life and make a person identify with your characters. What family doesn’t have their own drama?
Let’s face it: imagining a story, much less your characters in the story, can be difficult. It takes time to bring them to life. Make sure you are taking the extra steps with creating your characters, and don’t just put them in the story and shake them until they do something. Breathe life into them by giving them hopes and dreams. Their own fears and flaws. That can be the difference in making your characters memorable.
To view my characters, who are still growing and developing over their adventures, you can check out my Christian Fantasy series Darkness Overcome. You can find it on Amazon, or on my website at maxbsternberg.com. Books one and two are out now, with a third book expected to be released later this year. Have fun creating your characters!