Choose Your Challenge
Writers come up with many ways to establish the characters in their stories, especially the main character: character interviews, worst fear, early childhood, habits good and bad, etc. What readers want is action.
The easiest way to reconcile your wealth of knowledge about your character and engaging readers in the story is to confront your character with obstacles and challenges. Think of all the character background in the same way you do research:
Click to Tweet: Character background is like research. Only 20% actually shows up in your story.
Create the Challenges
As a storyteller, not just a character creator, find the challenges that reveal your character. The moment the character responds is the moment your reader is right there with the character. Each scene has some small or large difficulty where the character must respond in thought, word, or deed. When the character cares, your reader cares.
In traditional fiction and many genre’s this scene by scene challenge is the crux of getting your reader to turn the pages. As your character develops through the challenges your reader experiences the changes.
As your story and your main character progress, readers tune in to the changes. By the time your story reaches a climax, your reader knows your character, sympathizes with his situation and the final changes of the culmination of all those challenges along the way.
Your character becomes dynamic through her reactions to the challenges you create.
Wait! My Character Doesn't Change
Yes, some stories have a main character whose attributes connect them to a world they must change. The strengths of the character meet the challenges of outside forces and reshape (change) those challenges by enforcing their character traits. Thrillers, crime fiction, and mysteries often follow this story path. Miss Jane Marple doesn’t change. She uses her particular character strengths to reveal (change) the perpetrator.
Raymond Chandler depicts the perfect non-changing PI. This is the essence of a character who uses his attributes to change an imperfect world.
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
Change is the Story Key
Call it change or transformation. Whether your character changes or changes the world around, the key to movement and dynamism in your story is the obstacles—great and small-—that build story tension and keep the reader turning pages.
Infographic from Reedsy
Reedsy came up with a great illustration of different dynamic characters. Different dynamics for great story.
Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Argolicus thinks he has retired, but he and his tutor, Nikolaos, are drawn into puzzles, politics, and murder.