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Fiction Writers Should Develop Their Characters Like Directors Choose Actors

Joey is an experienced fiction writer who uses the byline J. A. Lowe. He is best known for his unique approach to character development.

Three Down & Dirty Things You Can Do To Improve Your Characters Right Now!

  1. Completely flesh out your protagonist. No information is too small. (Height, Weight, Color of Eyes, Allergies, etc.)
  2. Interview all of your characters. You are the writer. You must choose the right character for the right role.
  3. Introduce your character's backstory sooner than later. If they have one, the sooner you tell it, the sooner your reader will develop a relationship with them.

Marv is a character I developed for a book about an imaginary friend who is murdered.

Meet Marv, an imaginary character murdered in real-life Chicago.

Meet Marv, an imaginary character murdered in real-life Chicago.


It is our responsibility to help our readers experience what our characters are experiencing without the benefit of a movie screen and surround sound.

— J. A. Lowe

Character Development

Fiction writers often do themselves and their readers a great disservice by not taking the time to fully flesh out their primary characters. I liken it to the indie movie genre. There are plenty of great movies that fall in the indie category but they never seem to make it big because of who is cast to play certain roles. Viewers and readers expect more. They want a relationship with the actor who is playing a certain role in the movies and in books, if you can't help your reader visualize and bring to life your character, they will walk away.

Don't give your readers the chance to put your book down without finishing it. The best way to do this is through character development. Don't just describe your characters. Focus on their attributes and mannerisms, not just what they look like. Anyone familiar with the John Wick franchise knows the dude likes to wear black. Very few can tell you the brand of clothing he wears or how tall he is. Everyone can tell you he is a no-nonsense assassin who is sometimes called the "Baba Yaga" by Russians, also known as the Boogyman, because of his reputation for killing anyone and everyone that gets in his way. Everyone also knows that Wick loves dogs. The point is people will remember what a character does, what the character stands for long after they forget how tall the character is.

Use character development sheets to fully explore your characters. Yes, list their physical attributes, but also provide background information on where they are from, what accents they use, any disabilities or extraordinary abilities they may have. Where did they attend college? What are their hobbies? Have you used these characters in other writings? In what capacity? By now, you should understand that character development is very much like casting. You leave no stone unturned when sourcing your characters.

The end results will speak for themselves. If you have taken the time upfront on character development, your readers will connect with them. They will develop a relationship with your characters that help you as your characters work through the plot. And just like the movies, a well-developed character can and will carry a weak book.

Character Naming Conventions

Choose a Name for Your Character

There are many online sources to help you choose the perfect name for your character. Some writing platforms include character naming widgets that will provide you a list of names to select from given parameters you input. However, you arrive at your character's name, once you choose the formal, given name, consider the nickname derivatives that could come about with people who are familiar with the character.

Just like real life, your character should have a background that tells when and where they were born, how they were raised and by whom, what life incidents helped to form and shape who they are today. Characters are not robots (unless they are robots), so take the time to flesh them out completely.

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Now What?

Fleshing out a character means fully develop that character. Give them the things a real person has. Scars, limps, lisps, fears, are all some physical features characters can have. Attitude is another often overlooked trait that is necessary for full character development. The list is as in-depth and complicated as humans are.

It is not uncommon for a fiction writer to spend a great deal of time in character development and it is not uncommon for a fully developed character to have several pages of information about them. Unlike the big screen, writers have to describe in great detail what it is they want to communicate to their readers about their characters. That takes up page space. With practice, you'll get better at using less, more descriptive words to communicate the same information.

The End Result

When people read your novels, the human brain tends to put them in the role of the primary character, especially if the novel is written in the first person. Read that again. Your readers will oftentimes see themselves as the protagonist in your stories. It is incumbent upon you to give them the full experience. If you give them a character that is not completely developed, or worse, a character that is poorly developed, they will stop reading. Their subconscious won't allow them to connect with a character that isn't complete. It's like watching a movie with actors who don't appear interested in what they're doing. The quality suffers. Take the time to fully develop your characters and you'll find the plot and storyline comes much easier. Good luck and good writing.

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