4 Character Development Tips for Novelists

When a reader picks up a book they can connect to a specific character or something that a character has to go through in the book. Characters are the key ingredient that makes a book move forward, thus they are essential to the story.

Making characters relatable is one of the most effective ways to keep readers interested, giving them something to make it seem real. There are a few ways to develop effective ways to keep readers interested, giving them something to make it seem real. There are a few ways to develop effective characters, and using a few of the following tips you can create a stronger character that will draw in an audience.

1.     Character Backstory

Backstories are important in movies and even more so in books. Create a past for your characters to help the reader find something they can connect too. This also helps to keep the novel on track while writing. If you say the character has divorced parents in a backstory, but talk about her mom and dad being in the house with no explanation, it can cause a conflict or confusion for the reader. Backstories do not have to be long or extremely detailed, but just long enough information that they feel like they know about the character and can relate before they get too deep into the book. Backstories help create a base for a good character and a connection point for the audience.

2.     Character Dialogue

The way we talk to each other can say a lot about us. Some people have accents, some have speech impediments, and some just mispronounce words way too often. Every person’s voice and speech is unique. It can be difficult to create dialougue, between characters that match exactly what you are trying to communicate, but it is something that you can also experiment with. Finding the right way to convey dialougue is something you can coordinate with a developmental editor. A developmental editor can help tell you how to read it and you can get many different readers to test read the dialougue you created. Often times though an audience is going to read it the way they see the character saying it and leaving it up to their imagination on how they speak is good, just be a guide to help them develop a character in their minds.

3.     Character Goals

Everyone has goals. Your character should be no different. What do you hope to see your character accomplish by the end of the story? Are they going to fall in love? Discover magical powers? Save the world? No matter how big or small the goals are, it is good for each character to have a few that can come through in your plot. Be sure the goals are planned out and are not just thrown in and never accomplished. Or perhaps your character’s goals can change throughout the story also. Do not feel like the villain has to start off or end evil. Having a goal for your character is like a subplot; you need to follow through.

4.     Character Traits

The next two may seem pretty obvious, but they are essential to good character development traits. Give your character a name and a physical description. You don’t have to be extremely detailed; down to how many hairs are on their head, but it helps to give a little background. Even the amazing J.K. Rowling only said Hermione had “brown eyes”, “frizzy hair” and “was very clever.” It was enough to give a good idea of the young girl many would grow to love. Do not focus on covering every aspect, because they can come through at any time throughout the novel. We may never know how tall the character is exactly, but when he or she is compared to another it can help determine their size. Now a name can be anything, but should fit the personality you chose to give them. It is not very often you hear of an evil wizard named Bob or an old lady named Beyoncé. A name is up to you and how you feel it fits, but be sure that it seems appropriate for the traits they possess.

Character development is one of the most essential parts and often missing elements of writing, so if you can develop an effective character it can set the novel up to the best start. Often times you write about what is real and that you know and can relate too. This means that you shouldn’t be afraid to base characters off your friends, enemies, or family members. The more realistic the character the more relatable they are. Something to watch out is characters that are too perfect. If they did everything exactly right all the time it makes the story really boring. Unpredictability is a fact of life and the more your character and story reflect that the more enjoyable and applicable it will be to your readers.


--Erica Wardenburg, '19