Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How well do our Characters Grow ?

The characters ( the protagonist, the antagonist and the peripheral characters) are extremely important elements in our stories/books. All these characters take the story forward. Thereby it becomes  important  to not just  flesh them out in a appealing, healthy and wholesome way: without making them too fat or too thin, but also to breathe life into them.  As these are the  literary  people who will attract  readers into the make believe world we have created.

I have realized I had been indifferent  to not just the peripheral characters who dotted my story,  but also to the protagonist and the  antagonist in my  earliest work. No wonder then, its lying  in the lower drawer of my desk. When I revisited that particular book, I blanched at the flat characters I had created. Forget about bonding with them, a reader may not even like the one dimensional creatures, as flat as cheese trapped between two slices of bread, I had unknowingly unleashed   years back.

 I have realized that  for the characters in our books  to become multidimensional creatures with  rounded personalities that   readers will love, bond and  befriend, we  have  to make the characters grow.  By growth its not just the numerical or the physical growth, but also the emotional, spiritual, intellectual and  mental   growth. A growth that signifies  and symbolizes that life is  not only being lived  every  single moment, but also that its teaching us every single moment. This emotional, spiritual, intellectual and mental growth happens when we experience life in its entirety, when we battle everything that life is constantly tossing in our paths, and yet move ahead without giving up hope or the dreams we carry in our hearts. 

Character development is an important  ingredient of our story.  For a character to develop to it’s full potential,  character growth becomes vital. Not just the main  character, but the antagonist as well as other characters too must grow before the readers' eyes. This can only happen when they  experience the bitter sweet emotions of joy and sorrow,  meet  with  success and failure, adjust with guilt and regret. They  need to forge relations that may or may not blossom, undergo the  ups  and  downs and uncertainities that mark life, show their deepest  fears and darkest emotions,  reveal  their brave fronts as well as their vulnerable sides to the readers. Growth is one facet of life that is constant like change and it will resonate with the readers. Our characters are reflections of what we undergo in our own lives.

As humans we are constantly evolving and changing, sometimes for the better and at other times  for the worse. Though we may be unaware of it,  each and every experience:  whether good or bad contributes to our growth. Likewise for our characters.

When these varied   emotions  are  added to  the characters, its then that he/she/they  really start  living and breathing. The story literally hums into life and the characters develop flesh and bones, blood and skin.  

I am striving to make my characters grow. How do you all  bring about character growth? Do you have any special method to breathe life into your characters? Please share, we all will  surely benefit from your experiences. 


  1. My favorite novels are those with rich, well-rounded characters. When writing my novel, I used the Snowflake method to get me started. This really helped me get inside the mind of each character and examine their wants and needs.

  2. Oh this is timely. I'm blogging about this on Friday! Or is it next wednesday?
    anyway, great minds think alike. Character growth is so important. Character sheets helped me figure out some of this growth stuff!

  3. Great post, Rachna. So far, one of the favorite characters in my book is the somewhat hapless Emperor. He gets captured early on in the book and contemplates why and who he is throughout the rest of the book. It lead to an amazing amount of growth considering he only leaves his cell once (to be tortured). LOL I did struggle with how to help my villain out of his two-dimensionality phase, but Don Maass helped me a bit there. Read How to Write a Breakout Novel. I realized my villain missed a certain personality requirement and it was there - ready to be drawn upon - so it wasn't hard to add. I think we KNOW what we need on an intuitive level. The trick is listening to our intuition. ;D

  4. This is so important. I'm trying to do this right now in my WIP. I'm at 50K and it's time the reader see some painful growth spurts. I think it adds that extra layer that makes the character more three dimensional. It's harder than it appears to be. I'm really struggling with this. I suppose I'm growing too. ;)

  5. Julie, I too am partial to novels with rich and well rounded characters. I am curious about the snowflakes method, will go through your old posts to check whether you have blogged about that method.

    Lydia, earlier I used to do a mental character sheet. Nowadays I write it down and it does help.

    Victoria... my villain's character growth has stunted, he doesn't evoke hatred at all. I really need to work on that. I am relying heavily on my intuition to guide me.

    Anne, I wish I had worked on the character growth aspect right in the begining. Now I am finding it really hard. But better late than never.

  6. I'm glad you've made this discovery in your writing. As we grow in our writing talents, we have to see what our weaknesses are and what our strengths are so we can improve ourselves and our stories.

    I've always felt that as long as your characters are strong, you probably have an excellent story, no matter what the plotline is. What's happening inside the characters is the real story.


  7. This is so hard. I started noticing a couple of years ago that my characters were like puppets--just doing whatever I wanted them to. I started asking myself, "Would character A really do this?" which lead to, "What would character A learn from this?" then on to, "How would this change character A's behavior?" It's crazy. You get caught in a never-ending train of questions about your character. And at the end of they day, they develop personality and grow and develop. It's way harder than simply making them do what I want, but it's so much more satisfying.

    Then, that leads me asking the same question about the people around me. Which in turn gets me deeper into characters.

    Thank for this. Because of this post, I'll be pushing myself just a little bit more.

  8. Hi Jai..I agree with you completely that its important to have strong characters no matter what the plotline.

    Hi Kate...I am trying hard to make the characters in my books grow, become strong and learn something about life and themselves by the end of the book.

  9. This is timely for me as well. I am developing characters - pondering, thinking...thanks so much!

    Have a wonderful week,
    Karen :)

  10. This reminded me that some of my favorite books ARE favorites, because the characters are so believable. And the reason they are so believable is because they grow and develop--and not just the main characters, but all the characters they interact with. I, too, am trying to be mindful of that when I write, but it's not easy!

  11. What a wonderful post!!! I have to think about that. When I start writing, they hit the ground running. I do throw tons of challenges at them that forces them out of their comfort zone!!

    I have an awardfor you, lovely! :)

  12. My characters are all ready developed, but this will help me in future books. If our characters don't grow, the reader will throw the book down.

    It took me a while to grow Anna, Claire, and Ian, but they finally developed into real teenagers (at least in my head) with real personalities. And to me, they are real. I see them pass by me on the street. And think, there goes Anna. Funny isn't it? How close we become to our characters. Nice post Rachna. =)

  13. Hi Karen, hope this post helps you in some way.

    Mitty (Elizabeth), characters who grow and develop in some way by the end of the book, become extremely believable.

    Elizabeth, in my first draft the characters do not grow much, but in the next draft I try to work on that aspect. Thanks for the award.

    Robyn, I like the way you see your characters walk past you and around you. Its a sign that you have created real characters.

  14. This post is so helpful and the comments too! I am only just in the process of writing my first and really needed some help with developing characters. I never realized how hard and time consuming developing a character can be! It is so much fun though...:)

  15. Hi Alexis...Glad you found the post helpful. Character developing is time consuming, but well worth the effort when the characters become real and a favourite of the readers.