Common Mistakes New Authors Make In Character Development And How To Avoid Them

Spending time with your character development will pay off in the end if you avoid some common mistakes that new authors often make when writing their first novel.

Think about all your favorite books and what made you keep reading to the very end.

Usually, the one thing everyone can agree on is that there was at least one character in the story that they loved.

Now ask yourself, what made that character so lovable.

You may get too many different answers to list, but they all have one thing in common; the reader found a character they could relate to on an emotional level.

Here are a few common mistakes writers make in their character development:

1. Writing Characters Too Flat

For a great character, you must be able to write them in a realistic way.

Your fictional character should mimic a realistic person’s way of relating to the world.

No person is perfect, therefore even your hero should have flaws. 

If your hero is always perfect and never makes mistakes, it would make for a very boring read, and the story would be short-lived.

One tip I can give you to help with this part of the development is to think of people and/or characters that you love and some that you hate.

Make a list of all the traits you like about your favorite person and then list all the traits you dislike about someone you don’t care for so you can pick some from each list for each of your characters.

Then mix them together.

Give your hero some weaknesses and your villain some strengths.

Then your readers can relate to both primary characters and invest themselves in the story emotionally.

The reader can now understand why the clash must come for the hero and villain in the end.

2. Making Secondary Characters Without Purpose

Very few fictional novels have only two characters.  Therefore, your supporting characters must play a natural part in the story as a whole.

Everyone knows what a sidekick is in a good story.  But what part does he/she play in the overall story?

Secondary characters are important to your hero's development. Make sure you have a character that readers can relate to.

Some new writers give little thought to the backstory or development of these secondary characters because they don’t find them important enough to consider.

Your hero cannot survive without friends to help them get through the rough patches that lead to the outcome of your story.

Think about your friends and what they do for you and the reason you enjoy being with them.

How would they react to your situation in a way that helps you?

If you told your friend that someone was trying to kill you, how would they try to help you?

Don’t make supporting characters stand around and fawn over the hero and add nothing to the development of the story.

Instead, make your sidekick good at something that compliments your hero and makes them better.

Give your sidekick at least one trait that your hero needs to help them combat the villain.

3. Dumping Too Much Too Early

A well-developed backstory is needed for every character you write in your novel.

You may never write most of it on paper, but it gives you the sense of why your character reacts to any given situation the way they do.

The common mistake here is the dump too much of your character’s backstory too early in the book.

If you had just met your hero for the first time, do you think that they would blurt out that they had a strong fear of dolls because they once watched a movie about Chucky?

Some of your hero’s backstory should remain hidden until that character is in a situation that warrants revealing it.

For example, your hero has chased a villain into an old abandoned toy store, and the shelves hold porcelain dolls.  Now she might reveal to her friend why she is afraid of dolls.

That revelation wouldn’t make any sense at any other time in the story, so don’t dump it on the readers in the first chapter.

Don't give all your information on your character too soon. Let the story and character unfold.

4. Not Enough Backstory

Backstory is the single most important thing you do in character development.

Why does your character act the way that they do?  What motivates your character?  What about your character made the villain appear at all?

In the real world, most people go about their business day in and day out, and no villain comes to try and kill them.

What happened before your story starts that makes the hero set out for the adventure in the first place?

Your backstory needs to be detailed and deep, even if you never use all of it in the story.

Who your character grew up with and how they were raised can give you insight into the way they react to any situation or moral dilemma.

Do your readers really care that your character’s mother was 42 when he was born? Probably not, but your character may have been overprotected in their early years because their mother thought of them as a miracle child because she didn’t think she could have children.

That whole part of the backstory is unrelated to your story now, so there is no reason for you to mention it if you don’t want to relay it.  

However, it might give you insight into his reaction when his mother isn’t there to save him this time.

5. Too Many Characters

A new writer will often try to add too many friends for the hero and story.

When you have too many characters, it leads to clutter and wordiness in the story that isn’t necessary.

Can you combine some of your secondary characters into one stronger character?

As you are creating each of your characters, you must find their place in the storyline and if they don’t help the story progress, get rid of them.

When you add too many people to a scene, the dialogue becomes too bloated as you try to include them all in the conversations.

A Few Tips For Writing Realistic Characters

The fastest way to learn to write realistic characters is to watch people in normal settings.

Go to a mall or a park and sit for a while just watching people go by.

Watch how they interact with their friends or how they greet strangers.

Focus on how their face looks when they are excited or how their shoulders droop to indicate they are sad.

Take notes on all your observations and keep them close to you when you are writing.

Maybe you had an encounter with a stranger that you suddenly find you could use in your new book.

Learn to be a student of people and your characters will come alive like never before in your writing.