Character Development Tips in English Literature
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 11 min read


  1. Create a Detailed Character Profile
  2. Establish Their Motivations
  3. Give Them a Distinct Voice
  4. Show, Rather Than Tell
  5. Develop Their Flaws and Weaknesses
  6. How Characters Interact With Others
  7. Portray Their Change Over Time
  8. Use Conflict to Reveal Character
  9. Make Their Actions Consistent
  10. Influence of Setting on Character

If you're a teacher aiming to breathe life into characters in English literature lessons, or a budding writer wanting to craft memorable personas, you've landed at the right place. We'll be exploring helpful tips on character development—essential tools for teaching character development in English literature. Let's start this journey, shall we?

Create a Detailed Character Profile

Just as you know your best friends' likes, dislikes, quirks, and pet peeves, understanding your character in the same way can make them feel real and relatable. Here's how you can create a comprehensive character profile:

  • Start with the basics: Name, age, and appearance are a good starting point. But don’t stop there! Include details like their favorite food, the kind of music they like, or even whether they’re a morning person or a night owl. These seemingly small details can reveal a lot about a character.
  • Explore their background: Where does your character come from? A character's background—family, upbringing, and past experiences—can significantly influence their personality and behavior.
  • Consider their personality: Is your character an introvert or an extrovert? Are they adventurous or more cautious? Understanding your character’s personality traits will guide their actions and reactions in various situations.
  • Identify their goals and challenges: What does your character want more than anything else? And what obstacles stand in their way? Goals and challenges often drive a character's actions and help create a compelling story.

Remember, teaching character development in English literature isn't about filling out a checklist. It's about understanding your character deeply, and using that understanding to make them come alive on the page. And with a detailed character profile, you're well on your way to doing just that.

Establish Their Motivations

Why does Harry Potter fight against Voldemort? Why does Elizabeth Bennet fall in love with Mr. Darcy? In both cases, it's not just about the events that unfold—it's about the motivations driving these characters.

When teaching character development in English literature, it's important to highlight a character's motivations. These are the reasons behind a character's actions, the "why" that propels them forward. Motivations can be simple or complex, ranging from a desire for adventure to a need for revenge, from the pursuit of love to the struggle for survival.

Let's take a look at some ways to establish a character's motivations:

  • Link to their past: A character's background can be a rich source of motivation. A traumatic event, a significant loss, or a lifelong dream can all drive a character's actions.
  • Connect to their goals: A character's motivations are often directly linked to their goals. If a character's goal is to become a renowned wizard, their motivation might be a desire to prove themselves or to protect their loved ones.
  • Reflect their personality: A character's personality traits can also influence their motivations. An ambitious character might be motivated by the pursuit of power, while a compassionate character might be driven by a desire to help others.

Remember, motivations aren't just for main characters. Even supporting characters have their own motivations, which can add depth and complexity to your story. So, next time you're teaching character development in English literature, don't forget to ask your students: "What motivates this character?"

Give Them a Distinct Voice

Imagine reading a book where every character sounds exactly the same. It would be like listening to a choir where everyone sings in the same pitch—it just wouldn't sound right, would it? That's why giving your characters a distinct voice is an important part of teaching character development in English literature.

A character's voice is more than just their accent or the words they use. It's a reflection of their personality, their background, and their emotions. It's what makes a character feel real and relatable to the reader.

Here are some ways to give your characters a distinct voice:

  • Use unique speech patterns: Does your character always start their sentences with a certain phrase? Do they tend to ramble, or are they more concise? These quirks can give your character a unique voice.
  • Reflect their background: A character's upbringing, education, and culture can all influence the way they speak. Remember, their voice should be consistent with their background.
  • Convey their emotions: Our emotions influence how we express ourselves. If a character is angry, their voice might be harsh and abrupt. If they're happy, their words might be light and bubbly.

So, whether you're writing a brave knight with a booming voice or a timid mouse with a squeaky whisper, remember to give each character a voice that's uniquely their own. That way, your students will not only learn about character development, but also about the richness and diversity of human expression.

Show, Rather Than Tell

When teaching character development in English literature, it's important to remember one of the golden rules of storytelling: "Show, rather than tell". But what does that mean, exactly? Let's break it down.

Imagine you're reading a book and the author tells you, "Bob is very kind." That's okay, you now know Bob is kind. But wouldn't it have a much stronger impact if instead, the author showed you Bob helping an elderly neighbor carry her groceries, or giving up his seat on the bus for a pregnant woman? That's showing, not telling.

Here are some tips for showing rather than telling:

  • Use actions to reveal character traits: Instead of saying "Sarah is brave", write a scene where Sarah stands up to a bully. Actions speak louder than words, and they can paint a much more vivid picture of a character's personality.
  • Let dialogue do the talking: What characters say (and how they say it) can tell readers a lot about them. So, instead of telling your readers that Mark is sarcastic, let him crack a few sarcastic jokes.
  • Describe their physical appearance and behaviors: A character's clothes, gestures, and mannerisms can provide clues to their personality. For instance, a character who's always neatly dressed and on time might be seen as meticulous and disciplined.

By showing instead of telling, you'll make your characters feel more real and engaging. Plus, it's a great way to keep your readers actively involved in the story, as they'll need to interpret the clues you provide to understand the characters.

Character development is all about revealing who your characters are through their actions, words, and choices. And when it comes to teaching character development in English literature, showing is definitely more powerful than telling!

Develop Their Flaws and Weaknesses

Teaching character development in English literature goes beyond portraying your characters as paragons of virtue. Just like us, characters need to have their own set of flaws and weaknesses. Why? Because it makes them human, relatable, and much more interesting.

Let's be honest. Perfect characters are boring. They have everything figured out and never struggle, which doesn't make for a compelling story. On the other hand, characters with flaws and weaknesses have room to grow and overcome their shortcomings. And that's what makes a story truly engaging.

Consider this:

  • Flaws add depth to a character: Nobody's perfect, not even fictional characters. Giving your characters flaws—like a quick temper, stubbornness, or fear of failure—can add layers to their personality and make them more believable.
  • Weaknesses create conflict: Conflicts drive the plot. And what better way to create conflict than by giving your character a weakness that they need to overcome? Maybe they're scared of public speaking but need to deliver an important speech. Or perhaps they're overly trusting and keep getting fooled by others.
  • Flaws and weaknesses enable character growth: Overcoming a weakness or learning to manage a flaw can be a powerful journey of self-discovery and growth for a character. This transformation can be one of the most rewarding aspects of a story for readers.

So, while teaching character development in English literature, don't shy away from giving your characters flaws and weaknesses. They'll make your characters more relatable and their journeys more compelling. Remember, it's our imperfections that make us human—and the same goes for characters in literature!

How Characters Interact With Others

One of the key aspects of teaching character development in English literature is examining how characters interact with others. This interaction doesn't just tell us about a character's personality, but also about their values, motivations, and their role in the story.

Think about the conversations your characters have. Do they listen more than they speak? Are they shy or outgoing? Do they have a knack for smoothing over tense situations, or are they known for their sharp tongue? These interactions offer a treasure trove of information about your characters.

  • Dialogue: The way characters talk to each other can reveal a lot about their personality and their relationship with others. For example, a character who always interrupts others might be impatient or self-centered, while a character who speaks kindly to everyone might be empathetic and caring.
  • Body Language: Actions speak louder than words. A character might say they're fine, but if they're constantly fidgeting or avoiding eye contact, it's clear they're not. Teaching character development in English literature should involve understanding and interpreting characters' non-verbal cues.
  • Responses to Situations: How a character reacts in different situations can tell us a lot about them. Do they stay calm under pressure, or do they easily lose their cool? Do they step up in a crisis, or do they wait for someone else to take charge?

Understanding how characters interact with others is a crucial part of character development. It adds depth to the character, makes them more relatable, and drives the story forward.

So next time you're teaching character development in English literature, pay close attention to your characters' interactions. You'll be surprised at how much you can learn about them!

Portray Their Change Over Time

When teaching character development in English literature, one of the most compelling aspects to explore is how characters change over time. Characters aren't static—they grow, learn, and evolve just like we do. This progression can be slow and subtle, or it can be a complete transformation. Either way, it's an important part of any character's journey.

  • Starting Point: Every great character has a starting point, a place from which they grow. This could be a personality trait, a belief, or a situation they're in. The key is to establish this point clearly, so the change is noticeable.
  • Experiences: Characters change in response to the experiences they go through. These can be big events, like a battle or a loss, or smaller ones, like a conversation or a realization. How they respond to these experiences gives readers insight into their character.
  • End Point: This is where the character ends up after all their experiences. Have they changed for the better, or for worse? Have they learned something new about themselves or the world? The end point showcases the culmination of the character's development.

Remember, change doesn't always have to be positive. Characters can regress, make mistakes, and have setbacks. That's what makes them human and relatable. The important thing is that they change, they grow, and they're different at the end of the story than they were at the beginning.

So, as you're teaching character development in English literature, pay close attention to how characters change over time. It's a key part of their journey and makes for an engaging and compelling story.

Use Conflict to Reveal Character

In the world of English literature, conflict is not only a driving force for the plot, but it's also a brilliant tool for teaching character development. Conflict pushes characters out of their comfort zones, forcing them to make tough decisions and revealing their true nature. Let's explore how this works:

  • Internal Conflict: This is a struggle within the character's mind. It could be a moral dilemma, a tough decision, or an emotional conflict. How a character deals with internal conflict tells us a lot about their values, their fears, and their desires.
  • External Conflict: This is a struggle between the character and an outside force. It could be another character, society, or nature. External conflict tests a character's strength, determination, and resilience. It reveals their skills, their flaws, and how they handle stress and adversity.

When you're teaching character development in English literature, don't overlook the power of conflict. It's an effective way to reveal a character's true colors, and it adds depth and complexity to the story. So, the next time you're analyzing a character, pay attention to how they handle conflict. It'll give you a glimpse into their soul.

Remember, conflict isn't just about the struggle—it's about the resolution too. How a character resolves conflict can be a defining moment in their journey. It can lead to growth, change, and deeper understanding. So, don't just focus on the conflict itself, but also on its aftermath.

With conflict, characters become more than just words on a page—they become living, breathing individuals with their own struggles, triumphs, and transformations. And isn't that what great literature is all about?

Make Their Actions Consistent

Imagine you're reading a book, and the main character, who has been kind and gentle throughout the story, suddenly acts in a cruel, unexplained manner. It would be confusing, right? That's why consistency in a character's actions is key when teaching character development in English literature.

Consistency doesn't mean the character is predictable or lacks growth. Rather, it refers to the character's actions aligning with their established personality, values, and experiences. A consistent character makes a story believable, engaging, and satisfying for the readers. Here's how you can ensure consistency:

  • Stay True to the Character's Traits: If a character is introverted, they are unlikely to become the life of the party overnight. If they are kind-hearted, they won't hurt someone without a strong reason. Staying true to a character's traits makes them believable and relatable.
  • Consider the Character's Past: A character's past experiences shape their actions. For example, a character who has faced betrayal may find it hard to trust others. Acknowledging the character's past makes their actions understandable and adds depth to their personality.
  • Link Actions to Motivations: Every action should be driven by a motivation. Whether it's love, fear, desire, or ambition, a character's actions should reflect what they want and what they are trying to achieve.

Consistency in a character's actions is an important aspect of character development. It helps readers connect with the character, understand their actions, and become invested in their journey. So, when you're teaching character development in English literature, make sure to highlight the importance of consistency. It's what makes a character truly memorable.

Influence of Setting on Character

Imagine the icy landscapes of Narnia or the bustling streets of Dickens' London. These settings are not mere backdrops but play a vital part in shaping the characters and their stories. The setting of a story can greatly influence character development in English literature, often molding characters into who they are and influencing their actions and decisions.

A character's environment can affect their personality, beliefs, and behavior. Here's how:

  • Physical Environment: The physical aspects of a setting, such as weather, geography, and time period, can shape a character's lifestyle, occupation, and even personality. For example, a character living in the harsh conditions of the Arctic might develop resilience and adaptability.
  • Social Environment: The social and cultural aspects of a setting—like norms, traditions, and societal structure—can influence a character's beliefs, attitudes, and relationships. A character from a conservative society might have different views on gender roles than one from a progressive culture.
  • Historical Context: The historical period a character lives in can affect their worldview, opportunities, and struggles. A character from Victorian England will lead a drastically different life than one from modern-day New York.

Teaching character development in English literature involves exploring the symbiotic relationship between characters and their environment. As you delve into different stories, encourage students to consider how the setting has shaped the characters, and how it might influence their actions, decisions, and growth.

If you're eager to dive deeper into character development in English literature, don't miss the workshop 'Writing a Story, Creating Characters & Getting Inspiration' by Alex Kahuam. In this workshop, you'll discover invaluable tips and techniques for crafting memorable characters that will bring your stories to life.