top of page
  • Derya Dinç

Crafting Compelling Characters: The Heart of Unforgettable Stories

One of the most important factors that catapult beloved novels to the top of bestseller lists worldwide is character development. The breathtaking landscapes described by authors or the events that leave us eagerly turning pages, much of the meaning and value in all of this would be lost without central characters.

Many writers and aspiring authors who approach me have stories they are passionately attached to. They can visualize the events and sometimes even the locations where these events will unfold. However, characters can sometimes take a backseat after events and settings. Yet, aren't characters the standout feature of your favorite and most passionately followed stories? That's why character development is something I particularly focus on in my role as a writing coach and developmental editor. To achieve this, I provide various assignments, readings, and exercises to the writers I work with, with character profiles being one of the starting points. This exercise ensures that my writers maintain consistency within their books and also helps them enhance the underdeveloped and weak aspects of their characters.

In the character profile exercise, the author creates the following profiles for the characters in their book. The length and detail of this exercise should correspond to the importance of the character in the book:

  • Character's full name:

  • Any nicknames/aliases, if applicable:

  • Age:

  • Eye color, hair color, and style:

  • Height and weight:

  • Any accents, if applicable:

  • Distinctive features (scars, disabilities, freckles, etc.):

  • Personality traits (stubborn, headstrong, calm, emotional, cowardly, etc.):

  • Health:

  • Family background:

  • Likes and dislikes:

  • Fears:

  • Relationship history:

  • Hobbies:

  • Educational/employment history:

When an author embarks on a story with this kind of preparation for their characters, they can vividly portray them to the reader from the beginning. However, this is just the first step in the preparations made. Your characters won't just carry your entire story; they will also determine the decisions they make based on the characteristics you've written for them. For example, their education will influence their speaking and communication skills. Their relationship history can affect their connections with new people in their lives. Similarly, a character's employment history, hobbies, health, and family environment will be significant factors shaping their journey throughout the story.

Let's examine this with one of the most well-known examples. The Lord of the Rings immerses us in a rich world, and we follow the story of Frodo Baggins. The dynamics of all the characters, kingdoms, enemies, the history of Middle-earth, its races, and balance all come together to make The Lord of the Rings a legend. However, can we ignore the fact that it's actually Frodo Baggins' heroism journey within all of this?

At the start, we have a hobbit living a comfortable and sheltered life in the Shire, loved by his family and friends, gentle and humble. Given his innocence, ignorance of the outside world, and inexperience, it might seem unlikely that he would become the hero of an epic story. Certainly, if we knew the whole story, we might think of characters like Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, or Aragorn as more likely candidates.

But how much can a reader truly connect with characters who already possess many heroic traits from the very beginning? How much empathy can we feel for Legolas, Gandalf, or Aragorn if the One Ring had come into their hands at the beginning? Could we relate to a 2000-year-old elf, a wizard possibly thousands of years old, or a man who lives a life of exile due to the bad decisions of his ancestors? Could we establish a connection with them right from the start? Yet, there have been moments in everyone's life when they felt invisible, just like hobbits entering The Prancing Pony in Bree. Can you honestly say that you've never felt like them when you are in a crowded subway, in traffic, or in the hustle and bustle of daily life?

Therefore, the hope of making the changes we want one day and achieving our goals makes us feel closer to Frodo. We can empathize with him from the very first page, feel close to him, care about him, and this makes us want to know what will happen to him (in other words, read the book). That's why many epic stories feature characters who start their journeys in a rather ordinary way. Whether you're Harry Potter, Daenerys Targaryen, Luke Skywalker, Bella Swan, or Katniss Everdeen, all great heroes start from the same point, an ordinary beginning. This offers us, the readers, a journey of growth and self-discovery that we may follow for years.

"After all, even the smallest person can change the course of the future."
Galadriel (LoTR)

Following the character profile, the second exercise I request from my writers deals with where the characters will end up. Using the example of Frodo again, at the beginning of the story, we had an inexperienced and, to put it bluntly, naive hobbit. But where will this character be after experiencing all the adventures? What will they learn on this journey, and what losses will they endure? In this exercise, I ask my writers to envision their characters at the end of the story. They should be able to answer questions like: Where have the characters, including the main character, arrived at the end of this story? What experiences have they gained on this journey? How have their initial character profiles changed? Do they have new scars? Have they made new friends? Have they lost the friends they set out with? How have all these experiences changed them?

Once all these questions are answered, you have a map showing the starting point and the destination, the two points you will connect with events in your story. Now, it's in your hands to weave the events of your story between these two points to take your character from the starting point to the destination. Let's again examine some of the most well-known examples in this context.

Frodo may have lost his innocence and purity during his journey, but the wars he witnessed and the losses he endured gave him great wisdom and maturity. Frodo who grew up in a cheerful, sheltered life at the beginning of the story, by the end, has been forever changed by physical and mental wounds due to what he experienced. He now knows the world beyond the Shire, perhaps more than he ever wanted to. He has formed friendships that have had a profound impact on his life, and he has had to confront the deaths of his companions like Boromir and Gandalf.

The same can be said for Harry Potter. At the start, it might seem like there was no place for the little, orphaned Potter in this world. But by the end of the story, he not only creates a family for himself but also forever changes the world he lives in. Throughout all his adventures, he undergoes a significant transformation, becoming a leader known for his courage. He makes friends and survives the battles, losing some of those friends along the way. The same applies to Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones or Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, doesn't it? Perhaps the most striking example of a character's transformation throughout the story can be seen in Bella Swan, who starts as a clumsy, unremarkable high school student but ends up as a powerful and graceful vampire.

This transformation isn't limited to the main characters alone. Characters like Severus Snape and Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones, Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Loki in the Marvel universe, and Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia, among others, affect not only the main character but also the entire story through their transformations.

The changes characters undergo throughout the story can sometimes be so profound that even their names change; for example, in the Star Wars universe, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, or in the Harry Potter universe, Tom Marvolo Riddle becomes Voldemort.

Depending on the genre, length, and scope of the story, I sometimes ask my writers to conduct interviews with their characters, keep diaries for them, write letters on their behalf, find visuals that reflect their characters, create internal monologues, or write short stories about their characters' pasts. While the primary focus of all these exercises is your main character, I recommend not forgetting about the others. After all, your main character doesn't embark on this journey alone, and the things that influence them are not limited to the events that happen to them. You can see how Frodo was affected by the stories and changes experienced by Gandalf, Aragorn, and Samwise throughout his journey. Similarly, Bella Swan's story wouldn't be complete without Edward Cullen, who accepts his transformation into a vampire, and Jacob Black, who discovers his ancestors' past and quickly matures to become a protector. So, sometimes, depending on the work, I advise my writers to create character profiles and destination exercises for five or six characters. This not only helps clarify the characters for the author but also enriches the content for the reader, making it much more consistent and allowing the reader to connect more with the characters.

Many children's books feature characters who learn and grow by experiencing adventures.

Therefore, we can clearly see that what drives many successful and beloved stories forward is not just the events themselves, but also the characters and their development. Whether you want to write a fantasy tale or a romantic book, your characters will be the ones driving and carrying the story. That's why it's essential to dedicate time to create your characters and explore their pasts. If, as a writer, you can't answer the question, "Why should the reader care about my character enough to read hundreds of pages about them?" then you can't expect the reader to find the answer either.



bottom of page