Guest Post: Bolstering Character Development

7:00 PM


The character is what readers want to read about. The plot and setting are absolute essentials as well; just a story where just two people talk and nothing really happens was done by Plato and he ran that into the ground hard. Characters are what people relate to, their values and struggles, a voyeuristic and vicarious journey into another world through their eyes or by their side. This is why this series has to heavily focus on characters, they are what is remembered after the book is put back on the shelf. My own book, Urban Legend was born from characters and I hope resonates through the story.

Every character goes through a journey, the wills of nature, society, their fellows, and their own demons twist their path into near impassibility. Do they die, survive, or thrive? Do they break, bend, or bunker down to remain true to themselves? So many possibilities and the potential for heart-shattering and mind-blowing stories just on this. Both the Antagonist and Protagonist must find their own path, usually at the expense of the other.

Character Arcs - Dynamic
The typical arc for a character is Dynamic, where they change to adapt to the pressures of their path, for better or worse. This is the Luke Skywalker, whiny farm boy to Jedi Knight. Or Anakin Skywalker: from a slave with a heart of gold, to conflicted Jedi, to corrupted Sith. Both started out near to same, but experience and personal motivation drove them to make choices and become something different than they started out as. Except not really: better to say they became more of themselves than was required. Luke’s stubbornness became determination and will to end the emperor and save his father. Anakin's desire to save his loved ones from death became a thirst for vengeance at those who he deemed the cause of such deaths. People can change, though that is a longer journey than most might realize, and will usually do so in such a way that emphasizes their base temperament. Anyone familiar with Myers-Briggs understands no one really changes in the long run but instead becomes more balanced with their other traits. Or unbalanced as the case may be.

Character Arc - Static
The other type of arc for characters is to remain true to themselves through the whole ordeal. This is the Harry Potter/Lord Voldemort dynamic; despite the various trials and pains and schemes they both contrived and endured, the core of who they were remained largely untouched. Harry begins the series as a kind, caring, and brave child living under a cupboard and becomes a kind, caring, and brave young man who ends the most evil wizard of the modern age. In comparison, the Dark Lord starts as a cold, calculating and a friendless boy from the orphanage and dies a cold, calculating, and a friendless man with a barely a sliver of a soul left. While static development seems to be an oxymoron, theirs is an example of how it works. Granted, there are plenty more examples, especially with antagonists, where this is less ‘static’ and more ‘stagnant’ and the character fails to engage in a meaningful connection with the reader. But how much more compelling does that make Captain America or Forrest Gump?

Character Arcs - Minor Character
As mentioned in my last post, minor characters fill a secondary position in the story, but that is no excuse for them not to grow and develop. Consider Ygritte from A Clash of Kings (Game of Thrones series): she was a nothing wildling prisoner who ended up becoming a major catalyst for Jon Snow by being a damned powerful female character in her own right. While only hints of her past are revealed, she absolutely had a history and her influence in both the character and reader’s mind echo through the rest of the story. Now, not every author or reader wants to balance 17,912 character stories, but no matter how many or how few they are, each deserve significance. They might just start off as a well-meaning, but lacking sidekick/minion, but then grow as a character and become the next best thing to a protagonist themselves.

Character Arcs - Series
Within a well-crafted story, the character, no matter the hierarchy, has a clear journey: beginning, middle, and end. But that end might lead to another beginning, another story. Now, this is where things can get interesting, a character that not only grows from chapter to chapter but also book to book. A ‘static’ development might be a more episodic series, where the main protagonist remains resolutely the same even after each adventure. Crime, thriller, and the like are perfect mediums for this. While more dynamic development might require the character to become more and more: a shepherd, to a spy-in-training, to a captain of an army, to a fugitive, to heir of the realm, to leader of the realm; each book having that protagonist get caught up in more and more intrigue and more and more powerful enemies on a larger and larger scale. There would naturally have to be a stopping point, but that's where highly developed minor characters can take up the standard and forge their own stories.

Character Arcs - Relationships and Allegiances
Enemies and friends can potentially shift over time, or a dime. A solid ally can become a rival or worse over the course of a series, a single book, a single chapter, or even a single line of dialogue. Relationships between two complex characters bring the possibilities to exponentially complex results. There would be no real way to explore the minutia of this specific topic of character interconnections in any meaningful depth that wouldn’t involve a 400-page master’s thesis, except to say this: don’t skimp on relationships. Readers will be interested in a character, but they will be invested in their relationships. More than anything else, people respond to other people’s relationships. That’s why we care about who is dating who in school, at work, or in the celebrity magazines. We ‘ship’ characters, sometimes in odd or bizarre combinations, but we always want to see what’s next. Will the two lovebirds get together? Will the two siblings drift apart? Will two friends’ relationship be strained when one is promoted or elected over the other? Will the two people trying their darnedest to kill the other find a different way? Only you can tell that story, and we want to hear about it.

Author's Note:
While the over-arcing journey for Anakin Skywalker is accepted, the myriad of plot inconsistencies and weak character motivations throughout the Star Wars prequels made me throw up a little in my mouth while writing this, but deemed it necessary to maintain the integrity of the illustration.

While I abhor the prequels on a personal level, that disdain does not extend to those who genuinely enjoy them. People are more than their interests and should not be judged, ridiculed, or elevated based on one dimension of complexity. If anything, this allows for a richer tapestry of conversation where people with opposing views can collectively share their perspectives and together add depth to each other’s experience. This also includes, but not is not limited to, voters of political candidates/parties, those who enjoy certain pizza toppings, fans of Twilight/Percy Jackson, and what side the toilet paper should be on the roll.

Thank you for reading along in this series. It is my hope I gave you a dollop of inspiration, a dab of enthusiasm, and maybe even a pinch of encouragement.

Special thanks to Ivy Cirillo for hosting these guest posts! I had a lot of fun and hope to do this again.

Take care all!

- J.P. Dailing
Author Bio:


In his junior year of high school, J. P. Dailing found his passion for writing while living in San Diego. He dabbled a bit with screenwriting in college, but ultimately returned to his first love of novel writing in after moving to Texas. He lives in Houston with his wife and writing partner, Jennifer Acres.

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