We can break down the process of writing a great character for fiction into three stages: cause, situation and effect. Let’s start by talking about the character Kevin. He has a violent, volatile temper. That’s the situation. As writers, we need to lead the reader to that point. But we can’t start at the situation. That would be poor character development and looks something like this:

Kevin, a young man with a violent and volatile temper, walked up to his friend.

The best way to reach that character development, the things which make them interesting, is to approach from either cause or effect. Here’s what it looks like if we start with the effect:

Kevin slammed a bunched fist into his friend’s face. Moments before, they had just been chatting. Now, Kevin was screaming. “Say it one more time, I dare you!”

Starting off by throwing the reader into the effect of the character’s volatility will shock them. They’ll start to wonder what it is about Kevin that makes him behave in this way (situation) and how it came about (cause). But you could also start at the cause.

Kevin’s face twitched and he scratched at his leg. It looked like he was trying to bore a hole through the denim with his fingers. His friend couldn’t help thinking there was more to Kevin than the well-adjusted kid performance he put on. “There’s something I need to tell you.” He said. “Something that happened to me a few years back.”

Beginning with the cause, working towards it with a tic or a habit, is a great way to build a sense of mystery or suspense. It makes the reader want to turn the page to find out what situation the cause created, what its effect is.

So, to conclude, cause creates suspense or mystery. Effect creates power, shock and awe. Start introducing a character’s trait with something small that another character or the narrator notices, or with a sudden and unexpected burst of action. Then work through the other steps.

What are your tips for developing a great character? Do you have a favourite character from yours or another author’s writing?

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9 thoughts on “Tip #15: Character Development In 3 Steps

  1. I like using personal reveals as ‘clues’ towards a characters self-image, motivations etc. For example, a thought when they see their reflection — – Saul checked himself in the mirror, “You look like shit.” He muttered to himself.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hey, so this is pretty random. I’ve been reading some of your posts and I’m trying to get the hang of the whole character development thing for these short stories I plan to write on my blog. I wrote a short story and I was wondering if you could maybe check it out and give me some pointers on what I did wrong and what I did right in terms of character development?

    Here it is

    Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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