Character Development

© 2007 Daniel Arenson

In a good story (be it a novel or screenplay), your main character should change over time. At the end of your story, the main character should be different than at the start. There are many ways that a character can grow and develop. Let's look at some classic types.

Quick caveat: I'll be bringing examples from popular books and movies, so if you're worried about spoilers, be careful.

Fall into Evil

In some stories, a character begins as a "good guy" and gradually becomes a "bad guy", until at the end, s/he has completely transformed into a villain. These stories are usually tragedies.

Consider The Godfather. In this novel (and film), Michael begins as a war hero who wants nothing to do with the family business. Gradually, we watch him lose his morals. He mistreats Kay, becomes involved in the family wars, and by the end has become more ruthless than his father. The Godfather is about the moral fall of Michael.

There are many other examples, from MacBeth to the Star Wars prequels.


An opposite case is when a character begins as a "bad guy" and becomes "good". The original Star Wars movies follow this format; Darth Vader goes from being pure evil to finding his lost goodness.

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is another example. We don't like Amir very much at first. He does some horrible things, is haunted by them, and eventually must redeem himself.

In other cases, the character doesn't begin as being a true villain, but is flawed in some way, and in the course of the story, learns to overcome those flaws. You can even see this in the first Ninja Turtles movie; the turtles learn to overcome their anger and work as a team.

(Don't you love it when a writing guide brings you examples from both Shakespeare and the Ninja Turtles?)

Coming of Age

"Coming of Age" stories are often about finding inner strength. Examples abound, from Karate Kid to Judith Guest's Ordinary People. At the end of such a story, the character is stronger, wiser, and more ready to deal with the world.

There are, of course, many other types of character development. They all have one thing in common. The plot causes the change. The character changes as a direct result of the story's conflict, and the story becomes about the change.

Enjoyed these writing tips? Check out my own writing.
Read three of my novels for free.

More Fantasy Writing Tips


Download three FREE fantasy & science fiction novels. Get them here.