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What Is Character Development?
Character development is the process of fleshing out fully formed dynamic characters with well-defined personality traits and a strong point of view.
Character development affects everything from a character’s name and physical attributes to their backstory and character bio. Whether you are writing short stories or a Hollywood thriller, developing believable characters is just as important as creating a compelling storyline.
Why Is Character Development Important?
We all have experiences watching movies or reading books with flat characters that lack substance or don’t seem believable. Engaging in a thorough character development process can help you create strong characters that hook an audience from the first page of your book or opening scene of your film.
Most people can point to great characters from movies and books that grabbed their attention and made them empathize in a way they may not have thought possible.
- As you start writing, delve deep into your character’s personality and trace out a well-defined memorable character that you yourself find compelling.
- Using a similarly thorough character development process for minor characters in addition to your main character can make your world feel fully realized and your story that much more engaging.
How to Write a Believable Character in 5 Steps
If you want to write strong, believable characters, there are a number of essential things to keep in mind:
- Define your character’s overarching motivation. A good character development exercise when developing fictional characters is to ask yourself the simple question: What does this character want? Good characters have clear wants and needs that are motivated by circumstances and grounded in reality. As you start the process of turning a sparse character profile into a fully-fleshed out human being, one your audience might encounter in real life, you need to have very clear and concise reasoning for the character’s motivations. These motivations guide you as you create the given circumstances around them and plot out their character arc and the secondary characters that surround them.
- Figure out your character’s central conflict. Once we’ve established what a character’s goal are, build-in the internal and external obstacles to that goal. Sometimes a character’s conflict is external, meaning a force outside of the character is standing in the way of the character’s main goal. Sometimes the character is beset by internal conflict. Determine what the source of your character’s main conflict is and build your character’s arc accordingly. Learn more about different types of conflict here.
- Determine how your character will change over the course of your story. Some types of characters largely remain fixed over the course of a story; these are known as static characters. Archetypal characters like superheroes often remain unchanged from beginning to end. Characters who change from beginning to end are known as dynamic characters. When creating a character, you should ask yourself what type of character your trying to write and whether or not you see them changing over the course of your story. Learn more about dynamic and static characters here.
- Develop your character’s backstory. A fully developed backstory is an important part of creating interesting characters. Regardless of how much of the character’s past you intend to reveal to your audience, writing a detailed and extensive biography in the character development process can help you create characters that seem authentic and detailed.
- Define your character’s superficial characteristics. Finally, you should have a good picture in your mind of what your character looks like and how they move through the world. Make note of the real people you see around you every day as you develop a detailed snapshot of how your character looks. The better sense you have of the body language and superficial characteristics of your character the more vividly you will be able to convey these to your readers.
Judd Apatow’s 6 Tips For Character Development
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Director and stand-up comedian Judd Apatow has built his reputation on writing strong, engaging, and entertaining characters. Follow his tips next time you find yourself needing to write a strong and approachable character:
- Think about the kinds of characters you’re writing. Do some research via self-help books. Maybe one of your characters is a success-oriented business person, an anxious person battling depression, or a codependent person in an unhealthy relationship. Look for books addressed to that kind of person. What makes them tick? What are their telltale behaviors? What kind of people do they naturally clash with?
- Analyze your character’s psychology. As you delve into the psychology of your characters, the self-help shelf at your local bookstore can be a great resource. These books shed some light on why people make the crazy choices they often do, which you can then channel into your characters.
- Stay actively engaged in the character development process. Again, don’t be lazy when thinking through who you characters are. Judd urges you to take the time to flesh out your characters. The more detailed your characters’ backgrounds, the more storylines you have for a television show, and the funnier and more three-dimensional the characters will be.
- Create dynamic character pairs. When writing pairs of characters, make their dynamics clash. Writing characters whose personalities are at odds with one another will result in the funniest confrontations. Judd recommends giving your characters strong introductions. If someone arrives on the scene in a comedy, he or she should be hysterical. Remember, lazy writing stands out on the screen.
- Create backstories. Write detailed backstories for all the major characters in your story. Really take the time to flesh out who they are by asking yourself: What are their psychological underpinnings? Where do they come from? Why do they conduct themselves the way that they do? What do they want? The more details you have the better. Now look back at what you’ve written in your first draft and see how these details can be incorporated into the characters’ interactions.
- Pick three characters from the first draft of your screenplay and analyze how you introduce them. Are these the strongest possible introductions that these characters can have? Challenge yourself to rewrite these scenes in a way that highlights the characters’ distinct personalities and senses of humor in the most impactful way possible.
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