Character Development: Writing Believable Avatars that Change

What are Characters?

Characters are what most people call the simulated people who populate stories. They may be realistic contemporary humans, historical figures, aliens from a fictional world, or anthropomorphized animals, but they stand in as models of humans who act like humans do.

What is Character Development?

In the Story Grid Universe, we call these simulated humans Avatars to distinguish them from character. Character is avatar’s internal state including their priorities and values, which is demonstrated by the actions they take when under pressure.

Character Development happens over the course of the story as the Avatar reveals who they are through the actions they take.

Character Development: Writing Believable Avatars that Change

Categories and Types of Characters

2 Types of Protagonists

There are two types of protagonists we see in a well-crafted story.

  1. Fish out of native water. These avatars are incited to enter an unfamiliar context where they may not be aware of the norms, laws, and codes by which other avatars operate. 
  2. Indigenous member of the pond. These avatars are incited by someone or something entering their native context where they are aware of the norms, laws, and codes, but may or may not follow them.

Example: As Pride and Prejudice opens in Meryton, Elizabeth Bennet is an indigenous member of the pond, but Fitzwilliam Darcy is a fish out of native water. It’s important to understand the protagonist’s relationship to the context because they have different concerns and behave differently when they are on their home turf than they do when far from home. 

3 Ways Avatars Relate to One Another

How close other avatars are to the protagonist should change how each relates to the other. Like people, avatars  may behave a certain way with their close friends that they wouldn’t  do with strangers who share little in common with them. 

  1. First Party: These are the close friends and colleagues or family members of the protagonist. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s sisters and Charlotte Lucas or Darcy’s close friend Bingley.
  2. Second Party: These avatars are outside the protagonist’s most intimate circle but members of the same tribe or group. For example, the rest of the Lucas family and the people of Meryton to Elizabeth or Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper at Pemberley to Mr. Darcy. 
  3. Third Party: These avatars are members of the same nation or other mass group. They are recognizable as a member of the mass group, but they are not known as individuals.

These relationships can shift, but they should do so in ways that make sense. For example, Elizabeth and Darcy begin the story relating as third parties, but in the end when the lovers reunite, they have moved to first party.  

3 Avatar Functions

Within the different groups, we can identify how other avatars relate to the protagonist and their goals.

  1. Allies: These avatars seek the same goal as the protagonist, though they may wish to achieve it through different means. 
  2. Enemies: These avatars oppose the protagonist’s goals.
  3. Tricksters: These avatars are forces of chaos either inadvertently or for their own amusement. 

Character Development through Revelation

In our stories, we have character development by showing how avatars act given what happens to them. How they respond, or OUTPUT, is what shows us who they are and what they value, or their character. In our stories, avatars should act consistently and change their responses only when their objects of desire, essential tactics, or micro strategies must change in response to INPUTS from other avatars and the context. To reveal character and show how avatars change, we first show who they are by establishing:

  • Global OBJECTS OF DESIRE: Avatars should act in accord with what they want and need. Writers who identify their avatars’ objects of desire can show them acting more consistently.
  • ESSENTIAL TACTICS: Essential Tactics are the way avatars choose to pursue their objects of desire. The way they act should be consistent with their relationship to the context and the role they embody within the scenes.
  • Micro-strategies within SCENE TROPES should be consistent with each avatar’s essential tactics, and global objects of desire. 

To show how avatars change over the course of the story, we show failure or success at the appropriate level of story.

  • Changes in micro-strategies at the level of SCENE TROPES happen as a result of success or failure, but they must still be consistent with the avatar’s Essential Tactic. 
  • Changes in Essential Tactics happen as a result of success or failure of these tactics at the TURNING POINT PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATION of the UNIT OF STORY
  • Changes in the conscious OBJECTS OF DESIRE happen in the global level of story when the protagonist realizes they cannot attain it or they attain it and realize it’s meaningless. 

Consistent action that changes when avatars realize what their actions mean transmits the signal of the story’s CONTROLLING IDEA to the reader. 

Additional Avatar and Character Development Resources

Join the Story Grid Guild! Story Grid Guild members gain access to training in Scene writing, including Avatar Development. 


Share this Article:

🟢 Twitter🔵 Facebook🔴 Pinterest


Sign up below and we'll immediately send you a coupon code to get any Story Grid title - print, ebook or audiobook - for free.

(Browse all the Story Grid titles)