Creating Dynamic Characters

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The best protagonists change from page one until The End. Whether they change for the good or bad is your choice, but typically readers like to watch the metamorphosis of the main character. After all, something new happens to them at the beginning of the book, which sets them on different course than they were on. (If this didn’t happen, why would you be writing about them?) The key is getting that change right. Not enough, and they’re too static. Too much, and it’s unbelievable. How many times have you wanted to throw a book across the room when your beloved main character does a 180 for no apparent reason? (Wait—is that just me??) To find out how much change is Goldilocks right, read on for more info about creating dynamic characters.

What’s My Motivation?

Change is hard, and few of us like doing it. Even if we know we must or crave the end point of the change, it’s still hard. Routine is familiar, and familiar is comfortable. Things happen in life that force us into it, and that’s more than likely what’s going to happen to your protagonist. Remember, their life is normal—good, bad, or neutral—when the inciting incident occurs. This is going to throw them off the path they were on and put them on a new one. They might like it, they might hate it, but it’s going to cause something to shift. Make sure you create an inciting incident that really does incite change.

Change is Hard

The best way to create a believably dynamic character is to remember a truth about human nature: most of us crave stasis. Even people who love adventure and need change…tend to consistently seek change. That’s who they are. Most of us just act they way we do on automatic.

What I’m getting at here is: in order to write a character who believably changes, you’ve got to really push them into action. That push can be an external coincidence (their boat hit a giant iceberg; see also Titanic) or because they met someone new (When Harry Met Sally) or because they were diagnosed with cancer (Breaking Bad). Once the initial motivation or push to change occurs, more and more events need to prompt them to continue to change. After all, most people don’t change on a dime—even under dire circumstances. But over time, it can happen.

Proportional Change

Walter White from Breaking Bad doesn’t go from being a mild-mannered high school science teacher to a drug king pin overnight. Not even a diagnosis as life-altering as cancer is strong enough to do that. The key is that the writers didn’t give him only one inciting incident. It was incident-reaction, incident-reaction time after time, season over season that led him down his dark road. First he dabbled in making meth as desperation to provide for his family (and maybe show himself that he wasn’t a schmuck), but then that decision led to more tough ones as he becomes enmeshed in this life of crime. The key here was that he reacted proportionately to each new tough decision. Make sure your protagonists do that too. Over time, it wasn’t just his decisions that were dynamic, it was also his personality.

Keep it Believable

The best way to keep it believable is make sure your character’s reactions match what’s going on in their lives. Also, make sure things happen in their lives! If you want a miser to become generous, that’s a pretty big arc. Make sure that his change is incremental, so the reader buys it at the end. If the player finally finds love, make sure we see why he had a change of heart. If you remember to give your protagonists proportional motivation, you’ll be able to create interesting, dynamic characters.

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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