Character Development in Creative Writing

by Nicole Wong

Most of us here at Bentley spend our time writing research reports or critical analyses on other peoples’ work.But what happens when you are the creator of that work yourself? For the past year, I have worked on transitioning my skills from analyzing literary work to writing my own pieces from scratch, pieces that are meaningful to others.

When creating work instead of reporting on it, the idea of turning your own ideas into a convincing character is a difficult one. While the plot may seem to dictate who is going through the actions, it should be the opposite. Even though a story is only a small snapshot of important events in a character’s life, the characters themselves are complicated and more complex than what is happening at that moment. They have a greater set of emotions and experiences that can make them seem realistic, convincing and intriguing, as long as you—the writer—know what these characterizations are.

If someone were to ask a random question about your character, possibly not even directly relevant to the story, you should know the answer as if the question was about you.

Those details may not end up in your story at all, but thinking about who your characters are and what they have been through is very important. As with real people, experiences change how characters deal with future events. Without a concrete picture of what motivates a character, it is much harder to keep that character consistent through the entire work.

With that in mind, some important questions to ask when formulating a character are

  • What happened in their childhood?
  • What was an impactful moment for them?
  • Where are they from?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What do they love?
  • Where do they see themselves in the future?
  • Who have they interacted with?
  • What was their biggest challenge?

The snapshot of a character’s life that we see in a single story is important, but in order for it to be convincing, it should appear that the reasons behind their actions are not out of the blue but because of who they are. A well-developed character has the ability to strengthen not only imagery and dialogue but also the plot itself in most cases. By better understanding what has gotten a character into his or her critical situation in the first place, the predicament becomes more believable. Most problems in real life are not random events that happen by chance to random people; instead they are trials that people go through because of who they are and situations they have faced in the past.

When creating a character, you are not just imagining the person that lives through a rising action, a crisis, climax, conclusion, and then a falling action. You are creating a life that the character has lived, just like any other real person would. They may have qualities that resemble the people you know, the person you are, or the person you want to be, but they must be a complete idea before they can convince any reader that they should be listened to and read thoroughly. A character’s life beyond his or her story matters, and having the insight into that idea makes creative writing all the more real.

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This is the official blog of the Bentley University Writing Center staff.
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