Character Development: What It Is and Why It Matters

Character Development: What It Is and Why It Matters

Overview

One of the most satisfying aspects of a good story is the growth of its characters. The change that occurs within the character often leads to a deeper reflection on our own life and circumstances. It can also be a force that propels your story forward, and sometimes it represents the foundation of your plot.

In this article, we'll explore the concept of character development, why it's important, and why you should pay conscious attention to it while writing your book.    

What Is Character Development?

Whenever a change occurs in your character, whether for better or for worse, development has occurred.

A few examples of what this can look like for your character include:

  1. They learn a new skill.
  2. They become more respectful.
  3. They step into leadership.
  4. They overcome an internal fear.

Types of Character Development

Development in a character can be achieved by changing any aspect of them, whether tangible or intangible.

A few examples include:

  • Physical growth.
  • Development in their maturity and beliefs.
  • Change in their social status.

Let's look at these in more depth.

Firstly, there can be physical growth. If your story includes a teenager and spans a few years of their life, then puberty and teenagehood will naturally occur. This is one form of physical development that, if executed right, also affects their temper, disposition, and many other psychological aspects.

There can also be growth in personal values. In the beginning of The Hobbit, Bilbo breaks through his belief that he should never leave the Shire because it's safe and comfortable, and embarks on an adventure with the Dwarves. Had Bilbo not broken his belief, he would've never joined them; character development was necessary for the story to progress.  

Growth can also occur externally to your character, and even without their knowledge! For example, your protagonist may take an especially important spot in your world's society, such as becoming a religious figure, and he may not even be aware. Still, a change occurred in their social status, which means character development.

Although it's tricky to keep track of growth in all of your characters, especially in stories with large casts, you should strive to ensure that by the end, each of them has taken something from their own experience of the story.

Negative Character Arcs

When a character experiences a change that leads them to adopt worse traits or beliefs and results in them becoming more flawed as a person, then a negative arc has occurred.

A negative character arc tells the story of a protagonist whose journey leads them to a worse place than where they started.

For the readers, this can be equally as satisfying as a positive arc — sometimes more. Moreover, some people find negative arcs fascinating case studies of the human psyche. 

Often, negative arcs are accompanied by positive arcs. For instance, in the series Breaking Bad, Walter White experiences negative growth when it comes to his morals and beliefs. He slowly becomes accepting that manufacturing illegal substances and hurting other people is accepting to achieve his financial goals. At the same time, he experiences tremendous positive growth when it comes to competence, leadership, and courage, to name a few. It's therefore clear why fans of Breaking Bad enjoy the show: Walter is virtually never the same person from one episode to the next. 

Why Character Development Matters

The main reason development matters is because the story should influence your characters. If your protagonist is the same person when the story ends, then the readers will ask themselves what the point of your story is. Why did the character go through so much trouble and learn nothing?

If we reflect on our own human experiences, the reason we give them weight (and even remember them in the first place) is that they changed us in some way, shape, or form. We might even look back at bad times in our lives and feel fond of them because they made us who we are today.

The same can be said about the fictional people in our stories. Observing a character being shaped by the events of their world is one of the most satisfying parts of a story, and should not be glossed over.

Character growth can propel the story forward, sometimes driven by the inciting incident, a critical moment that ignites the narrative and propels the protagonist into the story's main action.

Finally, character development can emphasize who the main character, or most important ones, are — regardless of whether they are the protagonist. By the end of the book, the reader should be able to tell which characters have changed the most and in what ways, and it will likely feel as if they are the most important and perhaps memorable ones.

Conclusion

Learn about character development, why it's crucial for storytelling, and how to create compelling, dynamic characters that captivate your audience.

When thinking about your next book, consider these brainstorming questions:

  1. What are three ways in which a character could change throughout a story?
  2. How does character motivation affect a story's plot? How does character growth affect this?
  3. What are the most memorable characters I know from my favorite fictional stories, and what character development occurred in them?
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Andrea Cerasoni in Rome, Italy
Andrea Cerasoni

I'm Andrea, a Software Engineer, Technical Editor, and aspiring Fantasy Author. I'm originally from Rome, Italy, but am currently based in Glasgow, United Kingdom. I read and write classic Fantasy: the sword-and-shield, dragons, and wizards kind. In my articles, I talk about writing fantasy fiction, productivity, coding, building a website or platform, establishing a personal brand, and more!

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