All the Write Stuff: Crafting Your Characters

Strong character development is important for any genre of writing, including, at times, poetry and essay writing. Journals and presses will often say they prize characters over plot or prefer “character-driven” over “action-driven” stories. This isn’t to say that your story should lack plot or action, of course, but don’t let your characters get lost beneath what happens to them.

When characters hit a point where they need to make a decision, imagine the various outcomes and select the choice that best fits the character. This is why some writers choose not to plot out their stories but to see where their characters take them.

Another phrase publishers like to toss around is “dynamic” or “complex” character. People and even animals don’t neatly fit into good or bad categories, so many publishers also want to see characters that have both good and bad qualities and can change over the course of the plot.

Consider your characters’ motivation, for example. Does your hero want to save her family but also fear taking risks? Or does she hope to hold her marriage together but struggle to talk about her secrets? And maybe her fear of communicating secrets comes from a time in her past as a government agent when she was captured and tortured for information. Writing down your characters motivations, fears, and histories can help solidify their personality and propel your plot.

For more writing tips and exercises, check out:

Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine Lights! Camera! Fiction! by Alfie Thompson

For strong examples of characters, check out:

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr