Thursday, 24 June 2021

Creating Dynamic Characters, by Saviour Pirotta

One thing I learnt very early on while talking to kids during school visits is that people remember characters far more than they do plots. They might remember a particular scene or a striking quote but what stays with them the longest are the characters. Ask them what they know about a book and invariably they mention character traits. Harry Potter, sir, he's the best at doing magic but he helps others be as good as him. So here's my to-go list for creating dynamic characters. I started using it while writing The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad which was published by Bloomsbury Ed in 2019.


A dynamic character changes dramatically during the course of the story. They are usually the main character but not always. A good example of this is Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. To all intents and purposes Dr. Atticus Finch is the main protagonist in the story but the dynamic one is his daughter Scout. She is the one who is irrevocably changed by the end of the book.

Atticus is what is sometimes called 'a well-rounded character'. He has motive, back story and detail but the story doesn't change him much. He's still more or less the same person at the end of the book.


Establish what the characters' goal is at the beginning of the book. Make it clear and make achieving it the only driver in the story. At the start of Golden Horsemen, Jabir, the main character, discovers he can't provide for his family with fishing. He goes off to Baghdad to find a job. One way or another he has to earn enough money to keep the evil landlord from making his widowed mother and sisters homeless.


Before the main character can attain their goal, they must resolve an inner conflict. Jabir, being a boy and the eldest in the household, is cosseted all  his life. He's wasted time hanging out with friends on the street when he should have been learning fishing skills from his father. Now suddenly he is out of time and options. Not only must he take on the responsibilities of being the bread-winner in the house but he must also come to terms with the fact that he has failed his family, especially his dead father. The remorse and the will to redeem himself keep his character dynamic and the plot moving along.


The dynamic character's internal conflict is mirrored in external challenges. Jabir gets caught in a sandstorm, finds himself in jail and, when he does eventually find a job he is good at, the evil landlord tries everything he can to stop him from achieving his goal. I make the challenges bigger and scarier as the story progresses. 

The internal and external conflicts mirror and compliment each other. With each challenge, Jabir changes for the better. Sometimes the change is physical and this acts as a visual marker of the character's inner journey. More often than not, the change is emotional or cerebral. Sometimes it's spiritual. 

Trough the story, Jabir grows emotionally stronger. He starts to mature and takes on his responsibilities with pride. He learns to empathise and to forgive.


A dynamic character's journey is highlighted when set against a static one. A static character is one that doesn't change through the story. The genie in Aladdin is a perfect example of a static character. He facilitates Aladdin's journey from a penniless beggar to a prince, from a dissolute thief with no thought to his mother to a caring, well-rounded human being. But the genie himself does not change. He is still the same at the end of the story as he was in the beginning. 

I like to have static characters on either side of the main character's conflict. In Golden Horsemen, they are the landlord, the main source of external conflict. He starts the story being a despicable, cruel person and ends it that way. He is a warning to reader of what happens when someone refuses to change.

At the other end of the spectrum is Jabir's wise grandmother Nabiha (yes, I know I always have grandmothers in my stories. It's my trope, ok?). She comes to the rescue when the golden horsemen of the title are destroyed by the landlord and it seems Jabir is not going to meet his goal. She too doesn't change, mainly because her story-journey was told long before Jabir's narrative started and she has already reached her goal.

Well, those are the four steps I use to create dynamic characters. I hope they are of some use to the readers of this blog. I've been in quarantine for ten days but now the self-isolation is over. I am going to treat myself to fish and chips on the seafront, at a table, with other people around me. If it doesn't start raining before lunchtime...

Saviour's The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad is set during the Islamic Golden Age. It was shortlisted for the North Somerset Teachers' Book Award and other prizes. Published in January 2019, it is now in its fourth reprint.

For more tips on writing follow Saviour on Twitter @spirotta. Visit his website at


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