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Steps to Success » Story Writing

Breathing Life into Characters

Without characters, there is no story. A character’s motivations and growth give stories direction and meaning; therefore, it is essential that characters are given depth. To breathe life into characters, follow these steps:

Firstly, illustrate details of characters’ appearance, habits and behaviour that relate to their personality and role in the story. For example, a brave warrior wears many medals of honour and always touches their sword handle, fearlessly challenging dangerous enemies. A hardworking doctor has dark shadows under their eyes and often massages their temples from stress-induced headaches, caused by extra hours spent taking care of patients.

Next, consider the character’s motives. Like real people, characters should be motivated by what they want or need. Continuing the example, the brave warrior’s boldness stems from their desire to be acknowledged as the nation’s strongest fighter. The doctor always prioritises their work – as a child they witnessed their parents being tended to by a careless doctor who caused unnecessary pain, and do not wish a similar ordeal on anyone.

No one is perfect, and neither should characters. Assigning characters human flaws makes them realistic and provides room for growth. The brave warrior is a self-centred individual who only cares about being acknowledged and neglects others around them. The hardworking doctor, selfless to a fault, often forgets their own wellbeing and damages their health.

Lastly, create a turning point and trigger growth (character development); this should advance the main plot and solve conflicts in the story. The self-centred warrior, mellowed from meeting true friends, defeats their strongest foe by finding motivation in protecting those they care for. The overly-selfless doctor, after falling deathly ill, learns to take care of themselves before helping others in need, getting enough rest finally to focus on a life-saving operation.

Breathing life into characters can be a long and complicated process, but you will be rewarded with fascinating, rounded characters that elevate your storytelling skills. What kind of characters will your new protagonists and antagonists be?


Join fellow writers practising their character-development skills in our Love to Write classes.