Getting to the final pieces of character growth
This has been a long journey but if you implement even 25% of these ideas your characters will become more believable and readers will connect with them on a deeper level. You know the depth of knowledge you have with your best friend; well that is what you are aiming for. Your characters need to become your readers’ best friends, especially during a series. They want the best for them and become invested in the stories that give them that. Your book becomes a Keeper; always a writer’s aim.
These attributes are those things that people and you or your characters think characterize them. I am a writer who likes to write non-fiction, children’s fiction about living on a lighthouse station in the 70’s, and fantasy erotica. I am an older person coming into this but I have learnt so much about writing in the last few years I want to help others learn too. So in my mind I write, teach, provide health information to others so they understand, I enjoy my handcrafts (some of which I keep for myself, others I give to family, friends or charity), I see patterns in a myriad of things and try to make sense of them, and I try to think outside the box. I consider myself shy but I can stand up in front of a room and conduct a workshop or meeting easily. I am shy in that one on one I like another person to be with me so I feel happier talking to someone new. There are so many more attributes to explore than these though.
Back to those lists, I keep talking about; make one of the attributes as then you can pick and choose what you want your character to exhibit in your story. Each character is an individual so give them all different attributes. You need to give them positive and negative attributes as none of us are wholly one or the other.
Favourite or positive attributes
Why do I call them favourite attributes? It is because this is how you want others to think of you and like you; for the attributes you display. Honest, happy, respectful, easy going and fun, confident, be emotionally open, be disciplined and take pride in your body and home, be compassionate and have a sense of humour are some positive attributes. This is nowhere near a complete list but it is the top 10 list on the Net. I think you’ll agree that you like people who are like this.
Most attributes come from how you interact with others because of what you expect and like about yourself. If you are a little introverted these attributes make take longer for people to find but they still know you are probably someone they want to know more about. You and others do make instant decisions about people but they are normally spot on as we use subliminal cues in making that assessment. Try to use these cues in your writing as part of the showing by learning all about body language and using the cues noted in all the books for different feelings.
https://writershelpingwriters.net/thesaurus-collections/ Go to this website as the authors have created Thesauri about so many parts of writing including 2 on Negative traits and Positive traits. They go into extreme depth and it is so interesting. It is also very helpful and teaching you how to show and tell these traits and so much more.
Negative or least favourite attributes
These traits that you get annoyed at yourself for having and so do others. They are the flip side of the positive traits; Dishonest, grumpy, disrespectful, self-centred, aggressive, closed off, ill-disciplined and slobs, inconsiderate and sarcastic. This is only the short list as there are as many negative traits as there are positive ones. We have them even though we may deny it. I toss my clothes on a chair at night and don’t put them in the laundry basket till the next day. I don’t do the dishes straight after a meal. I procrastinate until the last minute for a number of things though I am working on that trying to improve at least one thing in my life.
Your characters need their negative traits to round them out. They can provide a point of conflict between characters. They may need to create their own change during the story too. No-one likes a perfect person because they feel intimidated by that so use that fact in your writing. It doesn’t have to be a major fault though those ones give the best conflict possibilities. It can be an eternally late person getting involved with someone who turns up ten minutes early. So much anger can be caused by this small difference. If you don’t believe me get someone to turn up twenty minutes late to the cafe and see how you feel when you get there 10 minutes early and wait, and wait, and wait for them to come.
Physical or personal attributes
How you look, what you wear, how you treat others, what you own, what you weigh can have others making incorrect assumptions about what you are like. I have been a large woman since my late thirties. Before that, I was the 36-27-37 figure that turned guys’ heads as I walked along because I was a DD and liked my cleavage showing a bit. I became invisible and in the end, men became invisible to me because there were only negative comments coming my way. My personality remained the same but not many men bothered to find out and if they did they were surprised to find a highly intelligent woman with many varied interests.
There are people out there judging you by what you own and how much money you have. I like to meet people to find out how great they are and what they have done in their life. There are men who boast (so wrong) that they haven’t read a book since leaving school. I am a book a day person as I read fast. We judge ourselves as much as others judge us. Your characters will face judgement. Make them interesting, appropriate and have a bit of humour tucked in there somewhere, please.
Accuracy in assessment
‘Be not quick to judge’ is a good adage to follow. You can play around with your characters doing exactly that. They may have to change their assessment completely as they grow in the knowledge of what the other character is like and what they may have overcome. We as people only see the worst parts of ourselves. Your characters can do the same so they are surprised when others tell how they see them.
By the end of the story, this accuracy of assessment needs to be spot on to show the growth of the characters and their attributes that needed to occur for the ending to happen. This could have been done in small steps or giant leaps of change as needed by the characters. People on the outside see the person or character differently as they have their own filters to see through. There might come a point that you have to tell the changes that have occurred but hopefully not.
How they think they are perceived?
Others can see you differently than you see yourself. I think that I am never quite good enough sometimes. I find others see me as the strong person they can come to about anything. I just want to lean on someone else occasionally but this doesn’t happen. Show in your writing this dichotomy in your characters. What they think they are like can be the exact opposite of other peoples perception of them. I was reading a paranormal story which throughout the book there was a lot of angst about the woman being a bunny and the man was a bear. It turned out that when she was angry enough that bunny was a huge sabre-toothed bunny larger than the bear in size. I loved that twist.
The characters perceptions of themselves come from the people in their life so far and change is possible, both positive and negative, depending on the situations you put them in and what the other characters are like in the story. Bring these perceptions into view as needed.
Causes of character problems
Characters problems are caused by the same things that cause problems in our lives with a few extra ones if you have them in a spaceship and it has been holed. We know what causes our problems and some are caused by internal problems, some by external problems.
The health problems can be minor and short term, they can be ongoing with a worsening problem growing or they can be fatal within a certain time frame. Of course, in a paranormal romance that fatal disease could be overcome by turning them immortal. They might be blind, deaf, in a wheelchair or have either mental incapacity or developmental problems. There is a growing market for inclusive and diverse characters that not so long ago would have lead to a book not being published. Today they are being asked for as there are limited books dealing with differences in people and characters. Publishers now see there is a need for these books after all. The books no longer linger on the fringes of what is acceptable. They are now mainstream and selling well.
Research and learn about the health problems before you use them as your readers may include those with the health issue. Remember books are printed in Braille and Audible books are running out the door as the population ages and sight deteriorates or people listen to them while commuting to and from work.
Rivals or colleagues
There has always been a rival; that is the antagonist’s job. But there are other rivals; the new or old partner, the job, children from a different partner, close friends feeling pushed aside, business partners, or leisure activities the characters don’t share. These can cause a number of problems that can range from mildly annoying to life-threatening depending on the needs of the story. They are the essence of conflict sources.
Colleagues at work can be your best mates, neutral or your worst enemies. There can be problems with people at all levels of the business. Either sex can be part of the problem. The problems they can cause may be personal or work related. These problems can just be small annoyances that make the day at work annoying or they may escalate right up to life-threatening. And if your characters are military personnel then your colleagues can cause havoc if for some reason they decide you should not survive any longer.
Problems help a plot become full of energy. You have to try and solve them or make it so there is no longer an issue by finding out if there is a way to fix it.
Friends normally have your back but sometimes that doesn’t happen. They might feel they have to protect you because they can’t see you doing it yourself. Romance–wise they might want the person you have so they try to destroy your relationship. There may be things in their life that you are not aware of that cause them to react to situations differently from you and it causes a fight between you two. They might feel left behind and try to disrupt your life so you come back to them. Sudden fame on either side can upset the friend dynamic. You may grow up and away from them to the extent that you no longer want to be as close as you were. Emotions can be hurt here.
These friends (supporting characters) are good for conflict and the resolution of that conflict. In the resolution phase, they may become fully your friend again, you may agree to lessen the time spent together or even no longer see them. Grow up and grow away is real.
Whoever decided to fall in love and being in a romance meant you lived happily ever after was lying. Romances have high points and low points. At the start, you look at this new partner through rose tinted glasses and they can do no wrong. Life then gets in the way. They snort when they laugh, have a weird sense of humour, sniff constantly through high pollen times, don’t put the cap on the toothpaste, flirt outrageously all the time and so on. Some things you can cope with, others are deal breakers.
The romance drops out of the ‘in love’ stage and with any luck you progress to the ‘loving’ place. That switchover time is fraught with problems. You have to show that your characters can grow and get through this stage but it will be a rocky road; oh so similar to real life. You can make your characters as gorgeous as you want as you are the writer; pity we can’t do the same in real life, huh.
In your life finances can cause many problems and so in fiction, it can too. Too much or too little money, why or how it is spent, or who has control of the money. Does the person with the most money have the biggest say whether they are male or female? Is the money an ill-gotten gain, an inheritance or your income from your working place? Do the men still get bigger money? Are there more male bosses than female bosses? What sort of attitude do the bosses have? Do they need to have that attitude or are they just rude?
Money is at the root of all evil can be true. When the lack of money is life-threatening to people you love then the lengths you may go to are unlimited. An overabundance of money may have the person feeling they can do anything and get away with it as they think they will be able to buy their way out of it. Partners don’t like to feel that everything they do is being bought for them because of the relationship and can end up feeling very weird about it. Conflicts over money are as useful and interesting in a story as they are in real life.
We make our own problems in life and in our books. We go through our lives being and doing things. All that has happened to us so far is reflected in what is happening to us now. Romances may have meant the partner cheated on you and you think this will be the same so you start to pull away from the person you are with to protect your emotions once again.
The health, emotional, physical, intellectual, and financial problems you can get yourself twisted up in as you live life can create a total mess. If you put in interactions with all the other people, good and bad, that you know then life can become a hot mess. So much can be used from your life in your books. You know the ins and outs so they can be a good part of that new story. It might be a way to rewrite how you wish your life would be. Sometimes life can grow to fill what was originally art (creativity). What you believe can come true and you do believe it while you are writing.
Being on the opposite sides of the political divides can cause problems because they have different ways of dealing with life, finances, social welfare, and war etc. If you make your characters very staunch in their beliefs it is going to take a long time to work out a way to live their lives together.
You might write your book from a particular political stance which may have an effect on who will read your book. Sometimes the theme of the story seems to aim for one political side or the other. Are you a warmonger for the sake of having a war or is it only in defence of another country’s right to their own system of beliefs?
Liberal or conservative may show in what you write, how you write and what audience you want to attract. Character-wise they can have the same problems with politics and their personal leaning as happens in real life. Conflicts and action rear their heads, thank god. They may not be interested in politics as long as their needs are met in their world. It may not be mentioned in your book and that is up to you whether it is or not.
Your character needs accomplishments. It could be simple like losing weight finally or graduating from university, owning a growing business or being a parent. There are many other accomplishments they could have as well.
Surviving a violent abusive childhood, coming out of it intact and still wanting to help others does come into the area of big accomplishments. Society often thinks it is the financial accomplishments, graduating from a major university or being an heir to the crown that is a big accomplishment but the range can be much wider.
You can have your characters surviving a major catastrophe and making sure as many people as possible are right beside them. Finding the serial killer and getting them into prison legally is a big one. Becoming the owner of a successful business that they have built up from the bottom is another. Being a successful single parent for many years is huge. Show and celebrate the big accomplishments in your stories.
The depth of the accomplishment is dependent on the situation you have your characters in. The problems you have them dealing with may mean that what looks like a small accomplishment in the wider world can be massive to the character /person involved. Getting up daily and getting to work on time maybe just a normal day for the majority of people but to the person/character who has been dealing with agoraphobia and anxiety, it is a major effort each day to do exactly that.
Passing a test, sign up for further education then turning up to class, starting a needed diet (for their health) and holding to it each day, not drinking because they are alcoholics and withstand the ribbing they get are just a few of the seeming small accomplishments but which really aren’t. Bring in these small accomplishments especially if the backstory sets the scene for why they are bigger than expected.
Reactions to a time of crisis
There are societal, physical, emotional, mental and financial crises that people and your characters may be involved in. How they act and react during these points of crisis will show you what the inner person is really like.
This person makes sure others are as safe as possible in the quickest time they can manage. They find out what person can be of help to the injured, how much help the injured will need to get to a point of safety and get others to provide that help. They may be the ones bandaging up injuries or providing other medical needs and any other assistance needed. They are the cool-headed planners of and in the moment. They don’t panic then; they may panic later when they are safe again.
They can be the protectors, either judicial or military, or just the person you pass in the street who can make up plans instantly and execute them quickly. They see no point in running around screaming when things need to be done so as many people get through the crisis as is humanly possible. They could be that sort of alien in a far-off world and still be helpful to others in worrying times. They have leadership qualities in other aspects of their lives that help them in needful times. Others recognise they know how to lead and let them carry what is often a very heavy load. They can delegate as needed because they know they can’t be everywhere so they find the needed personnel and put them in charge of that area. Alpha leaders come to mind here.
These are the cowards that die a hundred deaths. They know so many possible outcomes, get overwhelmed and run away from the crisis as fast as possible. They are number one and if you get in their way they will run over the top of you. It may mean that someone who could possibly have survived if given even a smidgen of initial help will probably die.
If there is a need for evacuation from an area this is the person alone in their car at the head of the exodus; they may not have even grabbed up their own family members in their panic to leave. If they hurt a person in a bar brawl and weren’t sure if the person was still alive they would scarper before the police arrived even if the other brawler started the fight and they were only defending their own lives.
There is one positive time when running is the right and only response and that is when the character/person is in an abusive situation and it becomes life-threatening or is heading that way. Running so you don’t kill the abuser or before they kill you with their next rage is plain common sense. This is especially true when children are in the relationship sphere.
The person who freezes does so because there is too much information coming into their brain for them to be able to figure out what the next action should be. Think of a possum in headlights; do they have time to go left or right to this noisy thing with blinding lights heading towards them. Splat! Too late now to make any decisions. People do freeze. If they are lucky there is someone close that does not and will grab their attention or arm and insist they move. Once they have started to move again they may become useful people/characters as long as someone else keeps them working till the crisis has passed.
These reactions are all normal reactions but some are more useful to other people/characters. There may be negative results because of their responses but as these are instinctive reactions, cue flight vs. fight reaction, there is only the one way that they can or do react. Your stories may be able to show why they reacted in a specific way. It may come down to training they have had, how they survived when they were young children or how someone else has damaged their psyche previously. All fodder for the writer’s pen/keyboard.
Their biggest secret
We all have secrets that we don’t want others to know about. No, I am not telling you mine. Murphy’s Law means that they may come out at the worst possible time and the one person you really don’t want to know about it will be present to hear it. As a writer, it becomes your job to reveal the character’s darkest secrets as this is probably what your plot is going to revolve around anyway.
The actions come from when and where it may be revealed and who else can hear it. It is betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, horror and just about any other emotion that is can be used during this time. It may be that without the secret coming out that the two that should have been together never will. They will have to work through any problems caused but their love will be enriched in the end. It may cause the opposite reaction and the story may revolve around revenge and hurt. The story can become very volatile, chair-gripping, jump high at the lowest creak on the stairs or at the minimum be verra interesting (said with a strong Scottish burr).
We regret not going with that one guy who still sits in our mind decades later. We may know the reason why we didn’t do so at the time and they were probably good ones but ‘What If I had…’ still comes into our minds in moments of reflection. Yes, we may regret the loves we didn’t pursue as much as we sometimes regret the love we ended up choosing if it ends up being a bad choice.
We may regret our career choice. How many lawyers are now writers? How many doctors are on small holdings going back to nature and natural remedies? What about the CEO, a former hippie, who got there by going back to study Business Management as they entered their thirties. So many people get the education for their long chosen career and then find the practice of that career is something they literally grow to hate with their mind, body and soul.
There are those who regret having children as they end up feeling trapped. Probably just as many people have major regrets about not having had any children as their childbearing years’ pass. What is the response to both options that you may be able to incorporate into your tale?
Regrets, large and small, come along as we look back and wonder if we needed to make the decisions we made along the way. Did others’ opinions cause us to make those decisions or was it all on us? Were these decisions pre-ordained by us before we came here for this life? Did The Fates want to trip us up? Which side did you regret more; the decisions you made or the ones you let pass?
Your characters can use what you have learnt in your life or what you have seen in other people’s lives. Your readers will see the reality in your writing then know the headspace you and your characters are in because they may have been there too. Write what you know, They all say. It does not mean write only about your day to day life but the deeper parts of your inner life too. It may be the emotional parts you use or the setting.
Your imagination and creativity, no matter how wild it may seem, is still part of you. Celebrate the fact that it is and put your words down for others to read. What if Shakespeare had not written his plays? Our language would be the poorer for the words and phrases we would never have read or heard. You may never know what influence your words may have if you don’t get them out in front of readers. No deathbed regrets about never publishing your novels or other writing creations.
What, if anything, have you learnt about Character Growth?
I know that you may not want to go into great depth on your characters at the start but some decisions have to be made even if you are a pantser. You may not have all the answers but along the way, you can create files about the characters you are using. It is needed to keep the names, ages, looks, schooling and careers in your mind so you don’t change the essential parts accidentally. You may learn more about the characters as you write. You may become stumped in the middle as to what they would do next. Take the time to make more decisions about their personality and other things about their life that are pertinent to your story.
- Who are your main characters? You need to round these characters out fully.
- Who are your supporting characters? Give them enough growth to be needed in the story.
- Who are your incidental characters? Only put needed information as they can be one dimensional if they are the person who passes over a note, etc. Seen but not really noticed.
- Tell me if there is anything I may have missed.
- Give me a quick précis of what one of your character’s personality is like, please.
P.S. Another place that has excellent character questionnaires on your characters is: