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Writing

How to Write Dynamic Characters: 4 Tips for Believable Characters

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 8, 2020 • 3 min read

The best novels, short stories, films, and plays feature characteristics that elevate the narrative. One element that tends to unify great storytelling is the presence of strong, three-dimensional characters. In most cases, these strong characters change from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. Readers and critics tend to gravitate to the work of authors who are able to convincingly write good character change.

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What Is the Purpose of Character Change?

Character change makes your protagonist believable, allows them to grow over the course of the story. This holds true for secondary characters as well. Dynamic characters change over the course of a story because real people change in the course of real life. If you seek to create a main character who feels relatable to readers, the character must possess character traits that remind readers of real-life people and must undergo character development over the course of the story.

4 Examples of Characters Who Change

The best way to incorporate character change in novel writing is to observe how top authors change their characters in their own creative writing. Here are a few examples of how a fictional character underwent change:

  1. In Beloved by Toni Morrison, the character Beloved goes from being a mysterious yet innocent mystical figure in Sethe’s life to a monstrous figure who seems to be draining Sethe of her strength.
  2. In Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, Peter Hatcher goes from being a young boy who seems depressed by the existence of his younger brother Fudge to one who finds his own self-worth in spite of Fudge.
  3. In the film Star Wars, Luke Skywalker goes from openly resisting the call to join the rebellion to a heroic Jedi who destroys Darth Vader’s Death Star.
  4. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge changes from being a cruel miser to a spirited, generous man who foregoes his miserly ways and embraces generosity.
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4 Tips for Writing Believable Character Change

Here are some useful tips to help you bring compelling change to a literary character and keep them from being an unchanging static character:

  1. Create a character profile. A character profile is a detailed portrait of a character you have created for a work of fiction—a novel, novella, short story, film, TV show, or web series. Your character profile is a record of everything you know about your character, from the character’s backstory to their personality traits, quirks, and physical appearance. You can also note their relationships, daily routines, hopes, fears, and motivations. Interesting characters are imbued with internal conflict that compels them to change over the course of the story.
  2. Base your characters on people you know. Consider crafting a fictional character in the image of someone in your own life. Perhaps your character will share a physical appearance with a real person—from hair color to eye color to small vocal tics and physical mannerisms. Or perhaps they will share personality traits with people you know. Grounding characters in the traits of actual people will help you write believable arcs and episodes of change.
  3. Pace the change steadily over the course of your story. Don’t save all of your character change for the tail end of your story. Pace it out over the course of the entire narrative so that when a reader looks back on the entire book, the broader arc will feel earned. The most important thing you can do to craft believable character change in your own writing is to make sure that all change is earned. Endow your protagonist with a character arc that takes them through many stages of personal growth over the course of many challenging personal episodes.
  4. Ask for feedback. The best way to find out how your work will be received by readers is to reach out to some of those readers. Small groups of writers often gather to review each other’s drafts and offer feedback. Meanwhile, courses covering everything from creative writing techniques to grammar rules are available for aspiring authors looking to improve their own writing skills. And study how your favorite authors pull off character change. Are you a fan of Stephen King? Ernest Hemingway? Dan Brown? Ask yourself what it is you like about their best work and how you can use those same elements in a piece of writing composed by you personally.

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