Do you know the difference between characterization and character? The former concerns itself with outward appearances – physical attributes such as height, build, hair colour or complexion. It also encompasses physical idiosyncrasies, which may or may not be indicative of a mental state. Perhaps your character has a nervous tic, or twitch, or walks with a limp.
Beginning writers often mistake characterization for character, but characterization alone is never enough. Aristotle said that character is revealed in the way a person acts when under pressure. If you want to understand your characters, ask yourself what motivates your characters. What are their deepest desires and greatest fears?
It is only through understanding the inner workings of their psyches that you’ll manage to create characters that ‘leap off the page’ and live on in the reader’s imagination long after the story itself has ended.
If you want to write an uplifting story, you’ll want your characters to change over time. Allow them to overcome their demons in the end.
In the interests of consistency, some writers make the mistake of showing the same character trait over and over, in different ways, so that the story becomes repetitive, and the character is denied a chance to grow. They mistake repetition for character development.
You may, of course, decide that your particular story demands a character who doesn’t change, doesn’t learn, doesn’t develop – and that’s okay if it’s done deliberately to serve your story.
Generally speaking, though, it’s only through allowing your characters to develop that you’ll create the kinds of characters with whom readers will want to identify. Readers want to struggle alongside the characters. They want to experience the fear, the courage, and the triumph.
If you allow them to do this, they’ll think back fondly on these flawed but inspiring characters, and remember them as wonderful friends they have come to know.