*Nonfiction* and *Fiction*
Whether you’re writing about real people who did real things, fictional people who do fictional things, or anecdotal people who prove your point in an informational book, you’re writing about characters. You’ve probably heard that dynamic characters are better than static characters. Yes, they are. But what does that actually mean?
Dynamic characters change over the course of the story. Static characters don’t. Dynamic characters move, adapt, learn, grow, and act. Static characters just come along for the ride.
Here are ten ways to improve the dynamism of your characters. Also, ten points to anyone who uses the word “dynamism” in a conversation this week. Tweet me and let me know if you do that.
1. Let conflicts play out naturally.
Two characters don’t like each other. Awesome! That’s conflict, and conflict is interesting. But wait; they’re supposed to be on the same team. How do we make them work together when they hate each others’ guts?
What a wonderful question! You’ve just created a character subplot! It’s okay for two of the good guys to dislike each other. Let them sort out their differences over the course of the story. Whether they put aside their problems in order to achieve their goals, or whether they start sabotaging their own efforts, they will learn about themselves and grow.
2. Let characters feel uncomfortable.
We grow when we encounter situations outside our comfort zones. The same is true of characters. If a character feels unhappy with a situation in the story, let them stew in it for a while instead of rescuing them right away. This will force them to change something about themselves in order to keep moving toward their goals.
3. Let them make poor choices.
On the topic of uncomfortable situations, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than screwing up, knowing you screwed up, and watching the consequences of that screw-up play out in front of you. Let your characters make mistakes. Show what they do to correct those mistakes and prevent the same thing from happening again.
4. Let them emote.
Unemotional characters are boring. You may want to write a stoic badass as your protagonist, but if the character never shows the reader how they feel about their situation, the reader won’t feel anything either. That is bad. Your characters don’t have to crumble into sobbing messes every time things don’t go their way, but do give them some sort of reaction to show that they’re living, feeling creatures.
5. Let them invest.
What prompts emotion? Investment. To generate believable emotion in a story, your characters need to be invested in the outcome of their situation. It may look cool to have a standoffish character who doesn’t seem to care what’s going on around him/her, but that can’t carry a story. The more invested the characters are, the more they’ll naturally emote for you, and the more the reader will feel invested in them.
6. Let them think.
Thinking through a problem is a naturally dynamic process. You have to sort through possible solutions, choose one, and figure out how to enact it. Show your characters going through this process, and they’ll automatically experience development.
7. Let them reflect.
Whether or not their chosen solution works out, let your characters reflect on their actions. Do they wish they’d done something differently? Do they think they made mistakes? Do they think other people made mistakes? Would they do the same thing again, knowing the outcome? A character’s thoughts about their past actions, and the evolution of those thoughts over time, show their development as an individual.
8. Let them judge.
This is a big one. It’s not considered polite to judge others, but we all do it, every day, for thousands of little reasons. So let your characters do it, too. Show the reader who and what they don’t like. Show the reader the things that they consider unacceptable in society, in relationships, in conversation, in business transactions, etc. Let them be judgmental. It makes them human.
9. Let them learn.
Nobody likes a know-it-all. It’s far more interesting to show a character learning about a topic than to have them already know everything about it. They can be knowledgeable, perhaps even an expert, but their reactions to new bits of information will make them even more dynamic.
10. Let them stay unfinished.
Life is a journey, etc., insert your favorite cliche here. The point is, your characters don’t need to turn into finished products by the end of the story. It’s okay to leave them with more room to grow in the future.
You won’t use all of these strategies with every character. Obviously some characters need to be more dynamic than others. Your protagonist should change more over the course of the story than Helpful Citizen #3. The main character in your nonfiction book will change more than the other people in the story; that’s why the book follows them around in the first place. Nonfiction anecdotal characters don’t need as much dimension as long-term characters, but should still experience a change that supports the point you’re trying to make to the reader.
Whatever you’re writing, keep your characters moving, and your story will keep moving as well.
Who is the most dynamic character you’ve ever seen in a book? Share your answer in the comments!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Your book is as long as: Calico Joe by John Grisham