Is Character Development Necessary?

When people discuss any form of story, whether that’s novels, films or TV shows, one aspect that often gets brought up is character development. This feature is sometimes harder to define or debate compared to technical aspects or elements of the plot.

So, what is character development? It can be influenced by two factors. Firstly, it’s the creation of unique, well-developed characters whose individual quirks, behaviour and history impact how they think and act. Secondly, it’s the internal journal experienced by the character over the course of the story, influencing their emotions and changes to their outlook.

But is character development necessary? Across the various forms of stories told throughout the world, this is a question which might often be asked but that doesn’t have a definite answer. It depends on the type of story being told and the character’s role within that world.

If you want to know more about the necessity for character development, read on.

Is character development necessary in literature?

Simply put, character development isn’t necessary in literature. This is especially true with forms of writing that don’t have a focus on characters to tell a story.

For example, many poems don’t include characters, instead focusing on broader ideas without needing distinct “people” to explore them. This includes famous poems such as TS Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’.

Likewise, some short stories are poetic rather than narrative and don’t involve any characters worth developing.

A silver arc against a blue sky with white cloud.

Is character development necessary in novels?

In novels, characters play a more important role. This is where having well-rounded and well-developed characters is crucial to telling a good story. Without it, even the most exciting plot isn’t going to engage a reader.

The more important question is whether your character should change throughout the story. This is then more relevant to your character arc, rather than character development.

What’s the difference between a character arc and character development?

A character arc is the structure of how your character changes over the course of the story. Each beat in the arc will usually correspond to a section in the plot. As something happens in the narrative, that impacts them and forces a change, either in the direction of their story or to their emotional state.

Character development is very similar to a character arc, but it encapsulates a lot more aspects such as the general backstory and the psychological changes to a character.

Are character arcs necessary?

So, are character arcs necessary? Without any sort of arc, you have a story with a completely passive character. With a few exceptions, most narratives won’t be successful if a character doesn’t change or if their perspectives is never challenged at all. 

But character arcs don’t always have to mean there is a change in a character. It’s possible to have a flat arc, when your protagonist ends up in the same place narratively and emotionally as they are at the start. However, even in this case they tend to experience some sort of obstacle that throws them off their usual path, even temporarily.

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Ultimately, any story can technically be written without a character arc or character development, but it would likely feel very empty without one. Readers engage a lot better with a story if the character at the heart of it is interesting enough to spend time with.

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