How to Write Dynamic Characters

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Characters are the backbone of any story. Even in a book with a primarily plot-driven narrative, there can be no plot without the motivations and actions of the characters. Characters breathe life into a story, providing the human touch (even if they’re anthropomorphized animals) that helps readers connect and get lost in the tale. Every book needs characters, be it only one.

A well-written character can help the reader immerse themselves in the story. Needless to say, good characters are a crucial part of your novel. On the other hand, poorly written characters can destroy an otherwise great plot, so your characters are one element that’s vital to get right. In this post, we offer tips on how to develop characters readers will identify with. For more help with your characters and plot, get a professional big-picture edit of your manuscript.

1. Create character quirks 

A well-defined character has a specific personality that makes them unique. Think about how your character talks, what mannerisms they have, and what little idiosyncrasies make them who they are. This particular set of behaviors and quirks makes your character feel like a real person to your reader.

This doesn’t mean you should give all your characters annoying quirks that they flaunt constantly, but rather that they should be thoroughly developed and have enough unique traits to make them memorable and realistic. It takes time to get to know your characters well enough to write them convincingly, so concentrate on slowly building them up, letting them take over in scenes in your head and determining their own direction to a degree. Of course, you’re the director, so you can always stop them and course-correct, but your characters will be most natural if you let them self-develop.

2. Give your character strengths and weaknesses

Part of fleshing out your characters is introducing some balance to their personality. While they will have skills and abilities, perfection doesn’t feel real. Even heroes aren’t perfect, so think about their flaws, fears, and failings. Get into their head and really try to understand how they think—this can help you flesh out their fears. You can work on developing their weaknesses by putting them in tense, high-stress situations and pushing “play” in your head. 

Similarly, villains aren’t evil through and through, so think about their attributes. It’s harder to get into your villain’s head if you don’t like them as much as you like your hero, but you owe it to your story to make all your characters well-rounded. Even when they lean strongly in one direction, every character should have both good and bad in their nature.

3. Invent a history

A character’s past informs their motivations and makes them much more real to the reader. Consider their upbringing and family background, their class or status, the friends that influence them, the region they’re from, their education, and possible traumatic events in their life. These details may shape certain aspects of their personality, certain behaviors they exhibit, or certain goals they’re chasing. 

You don’t necessarily need to include every part of the backstory you’ve invented, but having this knowledge as the author means you will better understand your characters, which is key to writing them authentically and engagingly. In this way, you can make choices that readers will feel are in keeping with a given character.

4. Concentrate on conflict and motivation

A character without conflict is a book without a story. Whether the conflict is external or internal, something has to happen for the character to take the actions they do. The trick is to make that motivation believable, based on the conflict introduced and on what we know about the character’s personality and values. If you’re struggling to come up with a good conflict to motivate a character, try developing their backstory further. 

If you want the protagonist to leave their village and embark on a grand quest, you need to set up their motivation for putting themselves in danger. Maybe dark forces will destroy the kingdom unless the protagonist can find a long-lost spellbook that belonged to their grandfather. Whatever the reason, it has to be strong enough to push the character into action. 

Of course, not all motivation has to be fantastical or tremendous. Maybe you need motivation for a character to leave their spouse or take a road trip. Just remember that real people don’t do things haphazardly, so neither should your characters. Whatever a character does, the reader has to believe they would. The best way to ensure realistic motivations is to get to know your characters, which necessitates deep character development.

Every character has a purpose

Every character, even minor ones, should serve some purpose in the story. Think hard about why each of them exists—is it, for example, to move the plot forward or provide comic relief? When you consider each character’s place, you can create a streamlined story that is satisfying to read. 

Finally, don’t forget that our editors can help you refine your story with a big-picture edit.

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