I've read loads of books where the reaction and development of characters seems to extreme for the events that effect them in the story.

However not having any development makes the character boring, or at least harder to relate to.

So i was wondering how much development do you think makes the character look fake or over acted?

Thanks, Randomman159

  • It sounds like you think the term character development means "focusing on or describing how the character feels about things". I don't think that's all there is to it - generally good character development comes from physical descriptions of the character, what they do, what they say, and a number of other things.
    – MGOwen
    Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 0:47

6 Answers 6


Looking fake isn't a factor of too much character development, it's a factor of bad character development. Use as much as you need to show every facet of the character that you deem important. The way you make sure they don't seem fake is to just keep it consistent.

  • But having too much development because of a minor event would fall under "bad development" wouldn't it?
    – Joel
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 5:07
  • Not necessarily. If I understand you properly, a minor event can be the best way to show a character's personality. The bad development would be leaving nothing for the reader to figure out, I guess, and that can easily happen with too much development. I'm not saying it's always a good idea, but there is definitely no limit IMO.
    – Maulrus
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 5:11
  • ok i see what you mean. Thanks for the help!
    – Joel
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 5:17

Character development is what makes a character memorable and real.

Character development should offer your readers psychological insight.

Character development is not something external to a story - it is the center of any story.

Anything that happens, anything that your character says or does can and should be character development.

Character development is not a scalar quantity that can be measured.

Character development lies is in the subtle mannerisms, the akward silences, the childhood memories and the humming that no one but your reader can hear.

  • I would like to emphasize your point that character development is central to the story. I think that part of what Randomman159 has probably experienced is not only "bad character development" but also authors who have chosen to include weak scenes into their stories. Every scene should be important to character development, even if in small ways. This is hard to gauge as a writer, because we can become attached to certain scenes that we like, even if they're not very important. This is probably part of a lesson in that old saying: Kill your darlings! Commented Dec 5, 2010 at 8:46

If your character is in a bad emotional state (near a nervous breakdown) then it's perfectly justified to have them overreact, i.e. they get wet because it rains and destroy a car or shoot someone with a gun can be very believable if setup correctly - Overreacting only means it's not justified well enough.

Every action has a reason and leads to a reaction. If you want to have your character be short fused and easy to trip, set him or her up that way. Give them problems, small nagging problems here and there. You wake up late because a Power Outage turned off your alarm clock, you jump out of bed and trip over some clothing, you can't see in your bathroom because there is no power for the light, the freezer's ice turned into water and left a little sea in your kitchen, someone almost runs you over on your way to work, the taxi/bus driver is very unpleasant.

The character than has a meeting with his boss and the companies CEO because the header of a Report is missing a minor detail. Really, nothing important, the character is just supposed to quickly redo the report. Except that because of all the other stuff that happened, the character now yells as his Boss and the CEO for being such pedantic pricks and finds himself unemployed half an hour later.

Overreaction? Absolutely, but it's justified and the reader can relate, because we all had such days.

Well, you get the idea.


Character Development is starting at one mental state and growing or receding to a new one. All you really have to do is look at a character's personality, consider how a person of that nature would react given a certain situation (it helps to put yourself in the character's shoes), and then consider how the situation causes the character to react. The experience and outcome changes the character's outlook.

If you prefer a more technical process:

Motive - What the character wants

Method - the actions taken to achieve the Motive, and the reaction to obstacles.

Moral - success/failure, & how this changed the character's motives and/or methods. You can use this on the scene, chapter, act, or at the level of the entire narrative (or use it on multiple levels).

There are more complex and abstract processes, but I've found this is the most concise way to study character development, but to each his own.

Amichai your advice rings true. and Michael you provides some excellent examples.


I think it is important to describe a character in different levels. I love the way it is described in the (imo) excellent book Story Engineering.

Larry Brooks suggest you need to describe three dimensions of a character:

  1. dimension is the physical outward image that the person likes to show

  2. dimension is the characters background an psychological reason for their behavior

  3. dimension is how the character act; what kind of person they are deep down and what decisions they make

An example (from the book). A 40 year old man drives a corvette with old leather seats. This is the 1. dimension, and it gives you an impression of a person, based on your preconceptions about middle aged men driving old corvettes.

The 2. dimension could be his psychological backgound reason for driving in such a car. It could be a gift from his late father, whom he was very attached too, or he could be an immature man with his head stuck in high school, believing he is still cool for driving such a car.

Imagine he is out driving, when a dog suddenly runs out in front of him. He could choose to drive the car off the road, wrecking it, to save the dogs life. Or maybe he cares more about the car than a dogs life, and deciedes to run over it. This is the 3. dimension. This revelas how the person is deep down, and dictates how he acts.

I think most problems with characterisation is that writer don't spend enough with the 2. dimension. Either characters are given too much description on the surface level, or they are show to behave in certain ways, or have certain values, without explaining the background reasons.


This is my opinion and how I write: Your character has (at least) a physical appearance, skills, morals, sexual persona, and beliefs (about how the world works, what people in general want and how they go about getting it, etc).

Describe none of that! Not without reason. I don't care if Sheila is 5 foot 1 blond cheerleader, unless that impacts the story in some way. I don't care if she is a champion dart thrower, if it makes no difference to the story. I don't care if she lost her virginity at 14, unless it somehow matters. I don't care if she is a Liberal Socialist, or thinks the world is governed by psychopaths with criminal levels of greed.

Nothing matters to me about Sheila unless it has some plausible influence on her behavior in the story. If she's short, I probably don't say so, she asks Tim to get something off the shelf for her. I'm not going to mention she was a closeted gay cheerleader in high school unless a sexual relationship from back then is shaping part of the story now (as it could, say if Sheila is a politician).

I think your character development is too much when you include elements of character that are pointless and have no real influence on how the character behaves. I don't think it is developing a fuller picture for the reader, or turning the character into a real person, I think it is wasting their time.

What matters is how they act, how they speak, and what causes them to make mistakes or prevail over hardship. And many of those things should not be told anyway; if Alice is brave, show us some ramifications of being brave, put her into a situation where she choose bravery, and you never have to write the world "Brave". Let readers conclude in their own mind, "Wow, Alice is brave."

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