Character development is one of the most important aspects of a novel. Without strong characters, most readers won’t stick around for very long. Even a unique and well-written plot can only do so much for weak characters. Similarly, strong characters will only take a weak plot so far.
But how do you develop strong characters? What do you really need to know about them? When they were born? Their favorite food, color, book? Their first word? There are so many character questionnaires and “get to know you” activities, but are they really necessary? That is totally up to you.
Some writers need to be armed with as much knowledge as possible. Other writers prefer to know the basics and learn as they write.
I fall in that second category (but no shame if you fall in the first). For me, trying to know too much is overwhelming. I feel like I’m trying to force my character to have a favorite book or first word, rather than discovering those facts as I write him or her. I prefer to let my characters tell me who they are as I write. I believe I can learn as I go.
But there are two things I absolutely must know about my characters before I start writing. Whether you prefer to know as much or as little as possible, be sure you know the two most important traits for successful character development.
The 2 Most Important Traits for Successful Character Development
If you know nothing else about your character, at least know what motivates them. You need to know what motivates each and every character. Even if it is a minor character that shows up once or twice. If you don’t know what motivates a character or what their goal is, then they don’t really serve a purpose in your writing. Everybody wants something. And it is our wants and desires that compel us to act. Knowing what your characters want will help you determine their actions. Knowing what your characters want will make their actions more realistic and believable.
Strengths and Weaknesses
You also need to know your characters’ strengths and weaknesses. This will help you know what will keep them from their goal and what will help them reach their goal. What weaknesses will get in their way? What strengths will help them resolve their issues? Knowing the weaknesses and strengths of each character will help you create believable characters that are more than one dimension. No character is made of only strengths or all weaknesses. A well-rounded character needs both.
It doesn’t matter if your main character has brown hair or salon-dyed pink hair. It doesn’t matter if her name is Lucy or Cami or Mark or Henry. Those details will come, as you write. But before you can start writing successful characters, you need to know what motivates them and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
So, no matter where you are in the writing process, I invite you to make a list of EVERY character in your WIP. Under each character write down what their motivation or goal or purpose is and at least 2-3 strengths and weaknesses.
What motivates your character? What are their strengths or weaknesses? What else do you like to know about your character? Comment below!