A great character is one who isn’t the same at the end of the story.
Without having a good character to lead the reader through the story, your job of crafting a great plot will become a whole lot harder. There’s a good chance if the readers can’t relate to or like the characters you are writing, they won’t finish reading your work. But there are some steps you can take which will help create better characters.
To write a better character you must focus on their inner journey. The inner journey is an individual character’s story arc which will take place during the overall story you are writing. A character’s inner journey starts when they are first introduced and goes all the way to the end of the story (or wherever the character’s part ends in the story). It shows how they change and grow—for better or worse—throughout the story. Here are the five phases of a character’s inner journey.
1. Internal Condition
This is where you introduce your character and the flaws they’ll be trying to fix throughout the story. A lot of readers love a story where the events of the story shape and change the character throughout—making them much different by the end compared to where they were when they first started their journey.
Readers want to watch a character grow and progress or regress. They want to see the changes take place and go on the journey with the character. If your characters stay the same throughout the whole book. chances are pretty good most people won’t be too excited about what happens to them. Character growth is an major aspect to good storytelling.
2. Inciting Events
Characters can’t grow if nothing happens to incite change. They need events in the story to change who they are or what they think about the world around them. Start small by setting the things in motion that’ll lead to a major conflict later on. You don’t just throw in a major obstacle before the readers have a feel for who your character is.
Once the plot thickens a bit you can start showing more and more of who the character is and how they handle problems. You can use the associated emotions from dealing with problems as a means to show character growth throughout the story. If they grow or regress by the end of the story, they won’t handle a problem the same way as when they first started.
A good bit of the character development will take place during this time. It could be a not so great person becoming better due the things they went through, or your character could become worse due to all they suffered through. But at some point in your story you’ll need to escalate the drama in order for your character to change as a person.
You also want to make sure you’re slowly seeding these changes throughout the story so whichever way your character does go, it seems natural and not forced. Don’t just throw in some major life altering event and suddenly the character is a completely different person. That’s lazy writing. Gradual change is what you’re looking for.
4. Moment of Truth
The big climax is the moment you’ve been writing towards for the whole story. This is the major event that finally completes the character’s change and or growth. After the moment of truth occurs your character shouldn’t be able to go back to who they were before.
In most stories this happens in two ways: The character finally figures out and learns from their mistakes—which makes them a better person, or they lose everything and go to the evil side instead. These distinctions are more black and white depending on the kind of story you’re telling. If you’re writing literary fiction for instance, these character changes will most likely be less pronounced than say, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker’s character arcs. So learn what amount of growth fits your character best.
1. Final State
This deals with the aftermath of whatever you’ve put your character through during your story. It’s important for the finale to make sense when you’re trying to come up with the way your character’s story is going to end. You can’t have your character go through a bunch of trials and tribulations, grow and become a better person, then suddenly turn evil for no real reason.
In the end you want to cement what the character has learned throughout the story and what sort of person they’ve become. Whether their change was good or bad, you need it to be logical and fit with the story you just told. You wouldn’t have Simba beat Scar only to become exactly like Scar. That wouldn’t fit with everything that led up to that point. Your character’s growth must always be the result of the events of the previous story.
These five steps will help you craft a realistic and relatable character who the readers will grow attached to or detest. A properly written character will incite an emotional response from the readers and have them wanting more.
If you enjoyed this then you should check out these other great writing articles, too!