Each character has thoughts, opinions, and a past that shaped them into who they are.
Character development is the process of creating that persona, then changing and adapting them in correlation with the events of a story.
As readers, we get to know and understand the characters by watching them deal with a myriad of situations. It would be unrealistic if they stayed perfectly the same from start to finish.
A character doesn't necessarily have to change a lot; just in a natural way that ties into the story.
They can grow and improve or see things in a new light. Or they may succumb to arrogance, hatred, or madness.
I've put together a list of flawed and well-developed characters in famous literature, all of whom came out of the other side of a story with new personalities and new perspectives (or didn't survive the other side).
Read some good examples of good character development.
1. Sr. Darcy -pride and prejudice
Let's start with one of Jane Austen's most famous leading men, Mr. Darcy.
We mostly see him from the perspective of Elizabeth Bennet, who doesn't exactly see him as her potential future husband after their first meeting.
'...was watched with great admiration for about half the night, until his manners caused an upset that turned the tide of his popularity; for it was discovered that he was proud, above the company of him, and above being pleased...'
Both the reader and Elizabeth learn and understand that Mr. Darcy is the way he is in large part due to social awkwardness.
The Lord. Darcy also defends his character in a letter later in the story, showing Elizabeth that he is not the man she thought he was.
Austen could have easily shown Mr. Darcyfrom Elizabeth's point of viewand how her feelings for him grow, but instead it shows real change and development in Mr. Darcy through his proposals.
Below is an excerpt from Darcy's first marriage proposal and Elizabeth's reaction:
"In vain I have struggled. That's not gonna happen. My feeling will not be suppressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you...
His sense of her inferiority, of being a debasement, of the familial obstacles that judgment has always held against inclination...
In this disastrous proposal, Mr. Darcy demonstrates his ignorance of Elizabeth's feelings for him and insults her family.
Although he has no reason to suspect that Elizabeth cares for him, and despite the insulting nature of some of her words, he is surprised by her rejection, not considering that this would be his response.
Later, once Elizabeth reads his letter and learns of his actions to protect her family's reputation, we see a real change in Darcy during his second proposal:
“You are too generous to play games with me. If your feelings are still the same as last April, please let me know immediately. My affections and desires are not affected, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.
Instead of simply reiterating his feelings for Elizabeth, he asks aboutandfeelings. He doesn't force her into anything, but instead lets her lead this interaction.
The Lord. Darcy listened to what Elizabeth said the first time, took charge, and learned from her mistakes.
It's no wonder that after 200 years she's still one of literature's most famous and favorite love interests.
2. Dorian Grey -Or picture of Dorian Gray
character development inOr picture of Dorian Grayis to succumb to madness and pride.
When the reader is introduced to Dorian Gray, he is a naive, handsome young man, well aware of his beauty. He is a superficial person who has never given much thought to anything significant in his life.
He even cries over his portrait when he realizes that he will never look like him again.
'I wish it were the other way around! If I were the one who was always young, and the image that grew old!
This is, of course, the moment when Dorian pledges his soul. From here he plunges into a destructive lifestyle, breaking women's hearts and ruining other people's reputations.
He is free of repercussions as his portrait ages and bears the strain of his lifestyle.
Although Dorian is still young and handsome, the thought of seeing the portrait and revealing its truth haunts him.
He becomes obsessed with hiding the portrait, paranoid that people will judge him for it, but also because he doesn't want to accept the facts.
It torments him so much that, in a moment of madness, he kills the portrait painter, his dear friend Basil Hallward.
'His beauty had been to him but a mask, his youth a mockery. What was youth at best? A green and immature age, a time of superficial moods and unwholesome thoughts.'
Dorian is more disgusted by his portrait than his dastardly deeds, until, in a fit of despair, he destroys the painting and in turn accidentally commits suicide, taking the face of the person he really was.
Oscar Wilde not only portrays the toxicity of vanity, but also shows how destructive a life without consequence is.
Dorian Gray is haunted by the portrait, understanding that it reflects his true self, but he never regrets his actions.
He (like another on this list, see number x below) doesn't feel guilty about anything. He only wants his own pleasure; he even admits he couldn't care less.
His pride, vanity, carelessness, and conceit are part of his character before it is presented to the reader.
These traits lead him to a natural descent towards self-destruction, all because he wanted to remain beautiful forever.
3. Los Hobbits –The Lord of the rings
Specifically, I'll refer to Merry and Pippin here.
These two don't really have much going for them at first. They are ordinary hobbits: they love food and drink and are happy to stay in the Shire.
They are so similar that it is difficult to imagine one without the other. They are not heroes; they just come across the situation while helping Frodo move out of the house and continue on his journey.
They show signs of bravery and loyalty withinThe Fellowship of the Ring, as they pledge themselves to the brotherhood and set out for Mordor to destroy the Ring. This plants the seeds of how they will grow.
If you have to go, it will be a punishment for any of us to be left behind, even in Rivendell. We have come a long way with you and we have been through difficult times. We want to go.'
Their bravery and loyalty are further explored after they part, when Pippin pledges himself to Denethor and Merry fights in the final battle, protecting Éowyn.
Despite their small size, they both take charge and have enough courage to do the right thing: Pippin saving Faramir from his father and Merry fighting the Witch-king.
However, its growth is not over yet.
In the epilogue, when they return to the Shire and find that Saruman has taken over, they decide to fight back without hesitation and lead a small army of hobbits to reclaim their home.
'The sword flashed in the setting sun. Merry and Sam also drew their swords and rode to support Pippin... The intrepid hobbits with shining swords and grim faces were quite a surprise. And there was a note in the voices of these newcomers that they had not heard before. It chilled them with fear.
If Merry or Pippin had stayed or returned to the Shire in the first novel, they could have become one of the helpless enslaved hobbits.
But because they made the leap into the quest, experienced war, and befriended kings, they became brave and heroic, earning the titles of Captain Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Tuk.
They may be homesick and both still like strong drinks, but now they have a story to tell and a sword to wield.
Despite having an epic fantasy scope, theLord of the Ringsseries still manages to explore the immense natural growth, even in itssecondary characters.
4. Allie Montgomery-Taylor/Mae Eve –The power
At Naomi Alderman's houseThe power, Allie's character grows up physically and sexually abused by her adoptive father, while being ignored by her adoptive mother.
This affects how he sees the world for the rest of the novel, as he begins to believe that men are cruel while women are victims.
'She is scared.
She is not safe.
She knows what she has to do.
The only way to be sure is to own the place.(Video) How to write descriptively - Nalo Hopkinson
After killing her adoptive father and fleeing to a convent, she takes the name 'Eva'. Here begins the Christian part of Allie's journey.
She believes that the voice in her head is God, guiding her path, preparing her to be a religious leader.
'Someone asks Allie what happened to her and she knows she can't give her real name. She calls herself Eva and her voice says:Good choice, the first woman; excellent option.'
She was given the name Mother Eve. The women respect and admire her, believing that because she is able to mend women with broken horns (the body part that gives them power), she is somehow a messiah.
Over the years, she rises in society, watching women being tortured and killed by jealous and cruel men, further supporting the worldview she had already developed at the beginning of the novel.
Her friend Roxy's attack further strengthens her mindset, setting her future plan into motion.
'And then there will be five thousand years of rebuilding, five thousand years in which the only thing that matters is: can you hurt more, can you do more damage, can you instill fear?'
And then the women will win.
She uses her position to start a world war and end civilization as we know it, one in which men hold the majority of power.
Her goal is for women to step back and start a whole new society where just women are the ruling power.
Allie can see that women can be just as cruel as men, but it only strengthens her resolve. She is not a power-hungry leader, nor is she vindictive or cruel.
She is just someone who has experienced too much pain to see the good in her world. Her plan works, and her actions are not only understandable, but in her eyes, justifiable.
5. Folchart of Mortimer 'Mo' -inkheart trilogy
Mo is a selfless father, book lover and binder by trade, but he has a secret.
He can read book characters, a power that sounds pretty good until you think about all the evil characters in those books.
emink heart, Mo is a normal man, not heroic in nature. To protect his daughter, Maggie, she runs from danger and not for him.
He and Maggie have a close bond and a shared joy of reading:
“He used to stay up late at night reading. Maggie inherited her love of books from her father. When she took refuge from a nightmare with him, nothing could soothe her better than Mo's calm breathing at her side and the sound of pages turning.
During the second book, he enters the world of Inkheart and is forced to take the name Bluejay. Bluejay is a folk hero, written by Fenoglio, the original writer ofink heart.
He doesn't recognize that title or the personality that goes with it until the end of the second book.
The identity is fully realized in the third book, when he accepts his fate and tries to help the people of the world against Adderhead.
'...Mo felt it again, just as he felt it at Mount Adder when he killed Basta: that sangfroid. Cold as frost at your feet. The only fear he felt was fear of himself."
As he becomes one with the world of Inkheart, his personality is greatly transformed from the beginning of the series. He no longer flees from danger, but towards it.
His wife and loved ones wonder if he will be able to leave or if he is still the man they knew.
"What about Maggie?" Love was written on her face. No, she hadn't changed, no matter what anyone else said.
They had nothing to worry about: he may have become a Bluejay, but deep down Mo is still a book lover who will do anything to protect those he loves.
Even with all this change, he still has the same heart and the same priorities as before.
His change is forced on him, but Funke makes it feel like a natural arc, which is why Mo is on this list.
6. Phillip 'Pip' Pirrip -High expectations
In Dickens' famous novel, Pip is a young man who grows up poor, an orphan and in the care of his sister and her husband.
As a boy, he meets Miss Havisham and Estella, who are upper class and show Pip what he didn't know he wanted.
As his relationship with them grows, so does his life ideal that he longs for: to be rich, classy and not ignorant.
'... reflecting, as I went along, on all that I had seen, and deeply deciding that I was an ordinary working boy; that my hands were rough; that my boots were thick; that he had gotten into the contemptible habit of calling scoundrels Jacks; that I was far more ignorant than I had thought myself to be last night, and in general that my life was bad.
Pip despises the life and world he grew up in, seeing himself as deserving of something more: a well-educated, wealthy life.
Although her brother-in-law, Joe, is a loving and hard-working man, all Pip sees is his lack of class. So when Pip becomes a knight, he ends up hurting his loved ones.
“I didn't have the sense or the good feeling to know that this was all my fault and that if I had been more relaxed with Joe, Joe would have been more relaxed with me. I felt impatient and irritated with him; under what conditions he heaped burning coals on my head.'
Pip maintains this idea of how the world works and how the upper class should behave throughout the novel. It's not until he finds out who his mysterious benefactor is that his view of the world is shattered.
He finally realizes that his social position is not as important as other things in life, including his loved ones, who have always tried to help him.
'No wisdom on earth could have given me the comfort I should have drawn from your simplicity and faithfulness: but I would never, never, never undo what I had done.'
He makes amends while he can and works to improve himself, treating Joe and Biddy with the gratitude he has long denied them.
Over years of development, Pip grows from an ungrateful boy who looked down on those who taught and protected him, to a man who accepts his flaws and strives to become a better person.
7. Jack Torrence -the bright
In Stephen King's novel, Jack struggles with his anger, his alcoholism, and the traumas of his past, but wants and tries to be a better person. His goal is to be a better father, husband, and writer.
'The desire, the need to get drunk has never been so strong. Her hand trembled. She left things. And she kept wanting to take it out on Wendy and Danny. Her temper was like that of a ferocious animal on a frayed leash. She had left the house for fear of attacking them. He ended up outside a bar, and the only thing that kept him from going in was knowing that if he went in, Wendy would eventually leave him and take Danny with her. He would be dead from the day they left.
Jack is flawed and aggressive. The only redeeming trait about him is the fact that he truly loves his family and that he tries with all his heart not to hurt them and strives to be better.
This is a man who needs help, but instead of getting it, he takes a job at the Overlook Hotel and deludes himself that being there can change him. Of course, that is not what happens.
Over the course of his time there, he slowly descends into madness as the isolation takes a toll on his mental health, and he becomes trapped by evil within the hotel.
Jack loses everything good in him. Only his connection to Danny keeps him from hurting his son, though the same can't be said for his wife.
'"I understand you!" he said she, and began to smile. There was a stale smell of gin and olives about him that seemed to awaken an ancient terror in her, a terror worse than any hotel alone could provide. A distant part of her thought the worst was that it all came back to this, her and her husband drunk on her.
Readers are left wondering if Jack would have succumbed to his impulses and violence even without the bad influence at the hotel.
The circumstances surrounding the character feel very real, and his madness doesn't come out of nowhere or develop too quickly. He walks in slowly, allowing readers to see the gradual difference in his demeanor and attitude.
8. mariana –Normal people
Marianne begins Sally Rooney's novel as an unhappy teenager who lacks self-confidence or pride in herself. However, when it comes to her companions, she seems to have a lot.
You don't make friends easily and generally don't seem to feel the need to. She despises the people around her for not being as smart or organized as she is.
It exercises an open content for people in the school. She has no friends and spends lunch alone reading her novels. A lot of people really hate her.
We see Marianne gain complete confidence as she enters college, though she still doesn't have any when it comes to relationships.
She listens a lot to the negative comments of her partners and allows them to do whatever they want with her, whether she likes it or not.
From the way her brother and former lovers have treated her, Marianne seems to believe that she is unworthy of love.
She doesn't believe that anyone, not even the novel's main love interest, Connell, ever loved or cared for her.
He says mean things about herself. It's hard to know if Marianne likes to hear these things: she wants to hear them, but she is now aware that she can somehow want what she doesn't want.(Video) Determine an author's message by analyzing character development
Eventually, however, Marianne accepts that she deserves better and is confident in her relationship with Connell.
Even when he moves away, she is confident that they will stay together no matter what.
'You should go, she says. I will always be here. You know it.'
Marianne becomes more selfless and trusting, ending the affair with friends and people around her who genuinely care about her and treat her well.
While Connell and their relationship helped Marianne get to this point, ultimately it is the positive change within her that drives her development, bettering herself and not allowing anyone to mistreat her under the excuse of love.
9. Libby's Day –dark places
Libby Day has to be my favorite Gillian Flynn lead as she is the one I understand the most. Although we are nothing alike, I can relate to her.
She is haunted by her past, unable to move past the murder of her family, and yet never allowing herself to own up to what happened.
She is unstable and unable to make friends, and distances herself from anyone who gets too close, including the aunt who raised her.
“I have a meanness inside of me, real as an organ. It cuts into my belly and it could slide, meaty and dark, to the ground for you to step on. It is the blood of the Day. Something is wrong with this. I was never a good girl and I got worse after the murders.
Libby doesn't see herself in a good light: she's just the one who survived a night of bloodshed and then pointed the finger at her brother.
That never changes, though he realizes the mistake he made and decides to help prove his brother's innocence.
After discovering the truth about his family's murder, he doesn't transform into a new and optimistic person, but instead goes through a state of acceptance and allows himself to move on.
She takes one last look at her old home and realizes how things have changed, and the novel ends with hope for her future.
'I studied everything for a few minutes, keeping my brain stable, staying away from the Darkplace. No screaming, no shotguns, no wild jay screaming. Just listen to the silence.
She also begins to rebuild her relationships. She makes peace with her aunt, she gets closer to Lyle, the person who helped her with the case, and even gets closer to her brother, whom she hasn't seen since he went to prison.
We can see the difference in his first and last visit to his brother.
'I put the tip of my finger near the bottom of the glass window...'
Ben pressed his hand against the glass and my brother and I pressed our palms together.
When Libby touches him through the glass, she allows her brother back into her life and her heart, and they both forgive each other.
She may still have some problems in her life, but she is no longer alone or tormented, and the story ends with hope.
Mr Darcy, Merry, Pippin and Mo change for the better, becoming heroes or worthy partners.
Dorian Gray, Allie/Eve and Jack change for the worse: they are swept away by whatever negative force surrounds them.
Pip, Marianne and Libby Day change more perspective than personality, and they all gain some hope for the future.
While these stories and characters are all different, they all explore character growth and/or development in intriguing and realistic ways.
Character development occurs over time. It shouldn't be surprising or sudden; it is provoked, constructed and explored by the author until his natural conclusion.
What is your favorite example of strong character development in a novel?