How to write right: Developing characters creates memorable stories

Ron Toback-Wolf

I will admit, I’m no god when it comes to writing. I often have trouble starting or continuing to write projects, as the ideas I get excited about are many and frequent. There are some advantages to thinking of many ideas instead of focusing on a single one, though. Not only is there an audience for shorter stories that don’t take much commitment to read, but any one of those ideas could be fleshed out at any point. The most prominent reason I prefer short stories, though, is that any character I make, for any story, can be reused in a different story without too much effort.

For someone like me, writing characters is the best part of writing a story. There’s so much that goes into a good character for their role. How do I make my protagonist interesting? How do I make my villain intriguing and intimidating? How do I keep my side characters from getting annoying while still giving them funny one-liners?

This is why anyone interested in writing fiction should play Dungeons and Dragons. The character you play is your character, you get to try a lot of things with them and act on-the-spot to see what truly drives them. You can see the parts of your character that your fellow players like or find annoying and what makes them laugh or clap. You get to experience firsthand what your character is thinking and how that affects their actions.

Another tip I have for writing characters in general is that all of a character’s details and traits should exist for a reason. Let’s say my new character is an astronaut. Why? Is it because they need money? If so, why? What caused them to be poor? What are they saving up for? Is it because they’re just interested in space? If so, why? When did they start learning about space? Was their interest self-founded, or did a figure in their life pique their fascination? Is it because they want to fulfill a promise? What kind of promise, and to whom? Why did they make the promise to go to space for them?

Not only their job, but everything about them should exist for a reason. What made their parents choose their name? What were their parents like? Was their home life pleasant or dismal? What made their parents like that? You obviously don’t need to dive into unnecessary details about every single character in their backstory, unless those characters are important to the overall story. 

If my astronaut’s dad doesn’t approve of his child being an astronaut but it doesn’t really affect them outside of their memories, I don’t need to go into great detail about him. If he has a role in the plot and hijacks the space station to keep his child from going into space, that might warrant some development as a devious villain or a wrongdoer who can be redeemed. It might change the flow of the story entirely. How will my astronaut feel about their own father actively hijacking their plan? 

You don’t need to spend hours upon hours creating a good character if all that that character is going to do is say “they went that-a-way” and then disappear completely. Like most things, the whys and the hows are the driving force of a story, far beyond the more simplistic whos and whats.

Some people make characters for the sake of making characters, with no intent to use them in any kind of story. Artists often do this to have a character to draw. Faithful D&D players may spend time making more and more characters because of their flowing imagination. Online roleplayers like playing these characters with their friends for fun. 

There’s no real downside to making characters for any reason. Making a realistic, humanized character can be very satisfying for aspiring writers. Imagine how Tolkien may have felt when people fell in love with Gandalf, or how George Lucas must have felt when people started praising Darth Vader and Yoda. Pouring your heart into a character may just end up with that character pouring their heart into you.