The importance of character development in stories.
This issue really depends on the type of story and who it’s written for. Some fiction are more plot-based, whilst others focus more on characters; and this has a lot to do with the target audience the books are aiming at.
Charles Dickens’s books, for instance are more about character development, and I love the intensity of how he builds his characters in Bleak House, for example. But truly, most kids these days would probably yawn their jaws off till they unhinged if they had to go through this classic. So, perhaps in this day and age, with the internet and everything moving at the press of a button, such a deliberate manner of character development might not sell to its audience as it did a hundred years ago–not that I am a hundred years old, mind you.
When I wrote my debut book, an adventure fantasy, Keeper of Reign, I had to cut out much of the world building and focus more on action as my target audience was of the younger age group–ten to fourteen-year-olds, and I figured they would not sit through a book if nothing much was happening by way of action and something always lurking around a dark corner.
That’s not to say the characters in Keeper of Reign were static, but only that even though the children in the story learned some important lessons, (being young they still had more to grow,) their character development is not as pronounced as, say, a protagonist who would have to re-evaluate all she held as truth at the beginning of the book by the time the end is reached–as the character Brie O’Mara had to go through in my latest book, Dead Dreams.
Things got a little different with this young adult psychological thriller.
Brie O’Mara, the main protagonist, and Sarah McIntyre, the anti-hero, began with certain tendencies and motivations and as the story unfolds the reader gets a sense of how their desires shaped their decisions and their actions. Behind the mask of clean living and having led a sheltered life, Brie O’Mara hid a dream to become something bigger than what her present circumstance allowed her. By the end of the novel she’d come to realize things she’d never considered at the beginning, or even in the middle of the book and this would impact her future in ways she’d never imagined. So, there’s huge character development in Dead Dreams, and it was necessary, given it’s theme and the plot. How much did Brie O’Mara grow at the end? I’d say a lot and yet, not so much, too. Because she hasn’t really found out why things led to the street she found herself on–the dead-end street, so to speak.
So, back to the issue of character development in a story—would it make or break a novel? Lovers of Sherlock Holmes, or Agatha Christie’s books will say, not much, since Sherlock was very much the same intelligent being at the beginning as he was at the end, because the movement of the story depended on the plot. Same with Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot.
What is more important than character development, is to start off with rounded characters–with the propensity to choose good or evil, having endearing and also annoying traits, not unlike us real people– in the first place. How much the character matures depends a lot on who the book is for, and how much there is to learn from the circumstances each personality in the novel faces in the plot.