YOU PROBABLY ALREADY have a good idea of what character development means for your story. Here's a definition, just so we're on the same page
Character Development -- the task of creating a character and building on them (working out appearance, history, mannerisms and so on,) OR the changes a character undergoes during the course of a story.
I'm referring to the second kind. So, where does one start with developing their characters, you might ask? Good question.
In order to be able to effectively develop your character, they need to be as human as you or I.
Before you begin to protest, I'm not suggesting that you stick to your own species. I love elves as much as anyone. (And vampires, and aliens...) What I mean is that your characters should be far from perfect. Give them flaws and weaknesses, fears and failures. Make them real. Once you have a perfectly flawed character, you're all set.
So, what now? Set for what?
Patience, young grasshopper. All will become clear.
Your character is going on a journey. Your story, or plot, is the road map. On their travels from A to B they may experience magical wonders, or mind-blowing atrocities. They may experience betrayal, love or fear. The people they meet may change their perspective or reveal a side of themselves they didn't know existed. I could go on. Chances are though, that they will experience something.
Why is this necessary for my story?
People change over the course of their life and so should your characters.
We are the sum of our experiences, both the good and the bad.
A one dimensional character will walk through a story unchanged, unaffected by what is going on around them or happening to them. They magically have what it takes to get through any situation and don't have to grow up, or learn any valuable lessons in order achieve their goal.
Is this believable? Of course not. None of us go through life this way. A two dimensional character however, is relatable. This is how we become emotionally invested in the characters we love.
Think of your favourite books. Where does your favourite character start, both physically and emotionally? Where do they finish? Are they different from when they started?
There are many different types of journey your characters can undertake. For example...
Zero to Hero -- for this journey our protagonist starts out small, but by the end of the story he becomes the hero he's always meant to be, allowing him to save the day. At the beginning, there doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary or spectacular about him. In fact, you won't find a more unlikely hero anywhere. Maybe that blonde beefcake who upstages our protagonist at every turn should have actually been made the hero of the piece.
But, every 'zero' has that something extra special locked away deep inside them and throughout the story, his character undertakes a radical transformation. From zero to hero, our protagonist's life will never be the same again.
Personal Growth -- here, our developing protagonist faces not just external difficulties, but internal opposition also. This can be anything from a crippling phobia, to a lack of self-confidence, to the inability to let go of the past and move on. Out protagonist goes through a personal journey, battling inner demons, a perceived weakness or whatever it is that is holding them back. Simultaneously, external opposition serves to challenge the protagonist and force them far beyond their comfort zone. This will usually push them to the point where they must conquer whatever internal issues that hold them back in order to restore order or save the day.
For this type of character development, the experiences they face on their journey push and change them, forcing them to confront their outstanding internal issues in order to deal with an even bigger external threat.
Unlike the previous type, our protagonists radical transformation is, if any, internalised. Generally, they are still the same character, just a shiny new version of themselves.
Tragic Downfall -- not all characters have to develop for the better. Some protagonists are more suited to their inevitable decline rather than ascension and, instead of becoming a better version of themselves, their actions lead them down a much darker path. Tragic heroes see the world in a different way and often, their perception of it is distorted by their own negative traits. Here, they may choose to somewhat redeem themselves towards the end, or accept their new selves for who they are and plunge into darkness. Either way, they have a rocky road ahead of them.
Character development is a huge topic. Having a basic grasp of it though, is important for any good story.
I'd love to hear about your characters. Who are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Let me know in the comments below.
Author of short fiction and journals for writers.