Every reader can name the most memorable characters they have met in pages of print. Yet no matter the diversity of genre or age of the works in which these characters appear, each of these characters shares a common quality ̶ the ability to successfully lay claim to a spot of residence in the reader’s heart and mind. These characters are usually multi-faceted; they have strengths and weaknesses that make them believable and relatable.
Such characters are key to a successful book and essential to any series, for it is the very thing that keeps your readers coming back for more. Developing these characters takes time, care, and contemplation. One of the most fundamental considerations should be your character’s destination at the end of the book (or on a larger scale at the end of your series or on a smaller scale at the end of the chapter). Think not only in respect of physical destination, but also in terms of emotional or existential destinations.
Is your character’s tale one of rising? Is it a tale of overcoming the obstacles and challenges faced throughout the journey? Or is it a tale of falling and succumbing to internal or external forces? Knowing your character’s destination and the general shape of the intended journey will help you determine your character’s baseline or initial physical and esoteric conditions.
Identifying these two points in your character’s journey will give you a compass to move your writing forward. Once you know where your character’s journey begins and ends, then the real work commences: fleshing out your character and narrating the steps of the journey.
Develop your character by building in the strengths and weaknesses, biases and beliefs, memories and experiences that define her and influence the choices she makes. What defines your character’s vision of self, others, and the world? Are her most essential qualities innate or acquired? Nurtured or neglected? Are her internal and external voices heeded or ignored? Why? (You shape and develop your character and the journey by narrating occurrences and interactions that show and highlight the qualities and directions you wish to convey. Always bear in mind the golden rule to show not tell.)
Trace the steps that ultimately take your character to the closing scene and make her who she is when the reader closes the back cover. What are the specific tests and dilemmas she faces? Are these challenges moral, situational, self-inflicted, avoidable? Are the struggles charged internally or externally? Are they real or imagined?
As you write, each sequence or scene should be moving your character to that predetermined destination. Her footsteps should mark her growth or decline. Keep in mind that no person’s path is on a constant incline or decline. There are always marks of failure on the road to success, points of hope on the road to loss, potential for good on the path to evil and vice versa. It is the combination of the smaller rises and falls along the path, the good and bad choices that are made, the potential to overcome and fall prey that creates a character that is relatable and memorable, that special kind of character who finds a way into the heart and mind of the reader.