How to Develop Your Characters

Characters are an essential part of the story-telling process. Whether we are cheering on a hero we want to succeed, or hating the perfect villainess, these characters are what help the story come alive to us readers. And as readers, we are drawn to strong characters that have a good story arc and an interesting background that allows us to relate to or sympathize with them. Of course character development is never easy, but by using the following categories as guidelines, your characters will bring the story to life.

Appearance: What better way to make your character jump off the page for the reader than giving a vivid description of what he/she looks like? Start with the hair color and work your way down to whether they prefer Uggs or Converse sneakers. Whether you are writing about the popular cheerleader or the quiet, goth art kid, give some depth to who they are. The point is to define the character, so the smaller details help more than strictly describing physical attributes. What are their gestures? What do they wear? What do they carry with them? What is their defining feature?

Background: Where were your characters born? Is it a realistic city (maybe your hometown) or a fictitious world that you invented? Give your characters an actual birthday, and then when you are setting the scene for your story, give them an age that coincides with the birthday. There’s a huge difference between a protagonist who is fourteen and one who is eighteen, and you want to make their dialogue, attitude, and opinions appropriate for their age group. Also something to include in the background story are relationships. What type of relationship does your character have with their parents? (Do they even have parents?) What about their friends and potential love interests? Are they homebodies or socialites? Who would their worst enemy be? Their best friend?

Flaws: Unfortunately, real or imagined, none of us are perfect. But that’s OK, because that is one of the things that make characters so relatable! So what is it about your character? Is he/she a perfectionist? Super competitive? Maybe they are sloppy about cleaning up the bedroom? Whatever it is, this flaw is a great thing to tie into the love story (if your protagonist is a perfectionist, maybe the love interest is laid back), and then watch as your main characters overcomes their flaws in the story arc. Flaws are real and flaws create tension. Also, to tie into the exterior flaw your character has, what does he/she think of themselves? Do your character’s self reflection match the flaws you’ve given them as the author? Is your heroine the most popular girl in school, but when your readers get a closer glimpse, is she really insecure of herself? These can add a complexity to your character that can also help with plot development.

Future goals/ambition: And finally, last but not least, what does your character want to do? How do they see the future? Since these are YA love stories, is your character in high school or college? If they are in college, what are they studying, or what do they want to do after college? Or maybe college isn’t for them (and that’s fine too) but why? And what else do you see in your character’s future? The most important thing is for your character to have some sort of goal for the future, and a clear “want”. This propels the character and the story forward.

Not only is character development an important part of the writing process, but it aids in strengthening your plot. Swooners, share with us what are some of your writing techniques when developing characters for your manuscript?

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Erin Carroll

Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, I always had a fascination with NYC and books, and now I get …

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