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Character Development: Creative Writing

Characters are the most important component of any narrative. Without them, there would be no story. Character development is an important skill to master because characters are important parts of any creative writing from books and short stories, from biographies and autobiographies, to poetry.

The development of a character is a very detailed process, and one that requires a lot of thought. According to Candace Schaefer and Rick Diamond (The Creative Writer. Addison-Wesley, 1998), you should consider many factors when introducing a character to readers. All of the kinds of details mentioned below are necessary to fully develop a character because each of them reveals a different part of the character’s appearance or personality and gives background about that character’s traits.

  1. Physical Details about the character: Is he/she short, tall, thin, old, etc?
  2. Physical environment surrounding the character: Is he/she on a desert island, in an urban community, living in the mountains, etc?
  3. The other characters surrounding the character: What kinds of people does the character associate with?
  4. The things that the character does: Does he/she go to school, fly an airplane, eat pizza every night for dinner, etc?
  5. The things that the character says or thinks: These things reveal the character’s feelings and opinions about things.

Schaefer and Diamond also state that character development is more effective when the author reveals traits about the character through the ways mentioned above and allows the reader to make his/her own judgments, rather than stating character traits directly. For example:

  • Option 1) The author simply states: “The young boy was mischievous and he was always looking for the next way to cause problems for everyone else.”
  • Option 2) The author mentions specific instances that the boy has caused trouble and reveals, through these cases, that he is mischievous and a troublemaker.

Option 2 is a more effective approach because it allows the readers to form judgments about the young boy themselves, rather than simply accepting the author’s word for it.

Sometimes it is difficult to think of things to mention about a character to give more insight into his/her life. Here are some ideas to help (From Sandra Miller, “Character Development Tips.” SandraMiller.com. 08 Jan. 2007.

  • His/her family: relationships, beliefs, habits, religion, activities, etc. We are all greatly influenced by our family.
  • His/her vices: illnesses, drinking or swearing, compulsive spending, obsession with sweets, etc.
  • His/her pet peeves: disorganization, grammatical mistakes, slow drivers, etc. These things say a lot about a character’s personality.
  • His/her daily schedule: school, work, errands, etc. The narrative must weave around the character’s schedule, so it is good to detail it.
  • His/her strong point: strength, determination, forgiveness, etc. This trait may help the character to overcome hardship in the narrative.
  • His/her nicknames: Readers can learn a lot about a character by what his/her friends call them and why.
Further Reading
  • http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~leslieob/pizzaz.html offers creative ways to help with writing poetry and fiction. It also provides a link to a site that allows for online publication of creative writing.
  • http://www.fsu.edu/~butler/ Pulitzer prize winner Robert Olen Butler takes you deep inside the process of fictional writing. You can learn, from an expert, how to manifest ideas and write creative stories by drawing from some of the most seemingly simple sources, such as artwork from postcards like Butler uses.
  • http://www.writingclasses.com/ – This site from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop provides a multitude of information on various types of creative writing, including non-fiction, poetry, plays, science fiction, and songs. It also provides information about how to publish your work.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

12 Comments

  1. [...] 4) “Things to mention about a character to give more insight into his/her life” – Sandra M… [...]

  2. [...] these peoples’ lives for a period of time that causes the connection with the characters and characters are the foundation of an excellent entertainment product (that’s the one truly credible reference I was able to find but holy crap does every writer [...]

  3. [...] Character Development: Creative Writing [...]

  4. […] these peoples’ lives for a period of time that causes the connection with the characters and characters are the foundation of an excellent entertainment product (that’s the one truly credible reference I was able to find but holy crap does every writer […]

  5. […] no choice but to consider many ideas, instead of narrowing the creative scope in the beginning. The University Writing Center suggests five character components for developing a protagonist: 1) physical description; 2) […]

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