How to Develop Compelling Characters in a Story

In storytelling, characters are the heart and soul of every narrative. They guide us through captivating journeys, elicit emotions, and keep us hooked until the very end. Every storyteller knows this and always strives to keep their characters interesting to appeal to the audience’s fancy. In light of this reality, this article explores how to develop compelling characters in a story.

Just like a sculptor molding clay, a writer shapes his characters, giving them depth, complexity, and relatability. A writer begins with a blank slate and ends with a colourful painting in story form. Renowned storytellers know that characters breathe life into their fictional personas. Therefore, developing rich and multidimensional characters is crucial for any successful narrative.



 How to Develop Compelling Characters

  1. Identify the character

Developing compelling characters begins with the initial concept. Writers ask themselves questions:

  1. Who is the character?
  2. What does the character want?
  3. What challenges does the character face?

– Who is this character? – Give the character a name, a position in the family, school, or work. Define the social class, the type of friends, favourite colour, etc.

– What do they want? – Identify the characters’ goals. For example, is a character seeking acceptance with peers in a school or looking for a job, seeking love, or has the thirst for power.

– What challenges do they face? – Create some challenges along the paths the character takes to achieve his goals. A good example is J. K. Rowlings Harry Potter Series. There were challenges from when Harry was a baby until he conqured Lord Voldemort. The story ends with his son worrying about how he would cope at Hogwarts.


  1. Give the character a back story

Writers explore the character’s backstory – their past experiences, beliefs, and motivations. The backstory provides a foundation for their actions and decisions throughout the story. It is woven into the story in such a way that it adds luster and colour to the storyline. The back story may come at the beginning or midway through the story. Example – a serial killer with multiple personalities has left his signature on six murder cases. The FBI is called in, and they are on his track. In the process, the serial killers childhood unfolds – He grew up in a broken home, lived with just his dad in a farm, in a secluded area, with no reasonable contact with people. His prominent skill is hunting, and he helps his father run an abattoir.


Serial Killer - character


  1. Make the character real and relatable

To make characters relatable, they must have strengths and flaws, just like real people. These qualities make them human and allow audiences to connect with them on a deeper level. For example –

  1. An intelligent lady discriminated against because of race or physical feature.
  2. A courageous man who feels vulnerable in front of his mother.

Character imperfections create internal conflicts that mirror real-life struggles, enhancing the readers’ connection to the story. To hone your skills on making characters real and relatable, You can outline the strengths and weaknesses of Harry Potter. To get the character features developed, you can create a character profile document to help you organize the characters and their distinct feature.


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  1. Use Character Arcs

Character arcs—the transformation a character undergoes throughout the story. This journey adds depth and interest, keeping audiences engaged. Use external events, internal struggles, or interactions with other characters to showcases a character’s evolution.

For example – A broken-hearted individual learns to trust again. The external events that broke his heart and the events, people, or/and personal transformations that led to him/her learning to trust again creates a well-developed character.

Let the characters’ actions and dialogues reveal their traits rather than explicitly describing them. This technique allows readers to form their judgments about the characters, as such, become more engaged in the narrative.

Example – Harry Potter, as a little boy, lived with his aunt, her husband, and son. His initial struggle was how to cope with his family, then came the challenge to go to Hogwarts School of Wizardry, then the challenges at school – school work, Draco Malfoy (a student who picked on him many times), Snape (the professor that never smiled), and Lord Voldemort, ultimately.


  1. Make the characters distinct and memorable.

Lastly, characters must be distinct and memorable. By giving them unique traits, mannerisms, and voices, they become individuals that leave a lasting impression. Consider Harry Potter and his friends – Harmonie and Roy. All three characters are very distinct from each other.

Learning from William Shakespeare – the master of character-driven drama – use dialogue to showcase character personalities. You can achieve this through gestures and mannerism, speech patterns and vocabulary.

Another good example is “Pirates of the Caribbean”. In this movie, you can tell each character by what they say and how they say it.



Remember, well-developed characters, not only captivate audiences, but also drive the story forward. They bring depth, authenticity, and emotional resonance to the narrative.

Characters are shaped by their environment. Use settings to craft your characters’ values, culture, beliefs, and choices. So, whether you’re crafting a novel, novella, screenplay, or any other storytelling medium, take the time to develop your characters and watch them breathe life into your stories.


Happy writing!


By Chinyere Nwosu July, 2023

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