Stories with great character development

Apparently our brains work hardest when we’re being social, i.e. communicating with each other, checking other people out. We’re all fascinated with the journey of what it is to be a human being, to vicariously experience what other people’s inner and physical journeys are like. We humans have always been fascinated with storytelling. Most of us are enriched by the windows stories can open for us, windows with horizons we may not conceive of by ourselves.

I love stories where the character/s develop and grow as they overcome conflicts and come to terms with complications and obstacles in the plot. In short, he/she’s not the same person he/she was at the beginning of the story. For me, well-crafted character development (whether told by book or through film) offers us important things; new insights, warnings, hope, permission to dream, a reminder that we’re not alone on our journey.


Great authors express a character’s interior life through their words, great actors express this through their acting on screen.

How a character develops must be believable. Have you ever read a book or watched a movie when the main character, after totally sweeping you away, does something totally OUT of character, or just plain dumb? There was room on that raft in Titanic for two to survive. My daughter tells me I’m missing the point and entering treacherous waters bringing up Titanic. What about when a TV series doesn’t know when to stop milking its popularity, and characters do stupid things they’d never have considered in the first season? I get wrenched from the story, thrown straight back to reality on the lounge,  wondering why I’d bothered to get so wound up and munch my way to the bottom of the popcorn bowl. The story wasn’t worth the calories.

Unfortunately, there are also plenty of stories where the protagonist (who should develop) remains as unchanging as the Violet Crumble wrapper from my childhood. Why take us on this journey, like a lame ride at an amusement park, unless it’s to make a specific point?

On to better things:

Great stories for character development –

(Some are books, most are movies – because they were ripe for the screen. Romance is not a major theme today – that’s for the next blog)

Green Eggs and Ham – Dr Seuss

I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew – Dr Seuss

Sneetches and Other Stories – Dr Seuss

The Paper Bag Princess – Robert Munsch

Paperbag Princess

Where The Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Movie 2009

Holes – Louis Sachar. Movie 2003 (Sigourney Weaver, John Voight, Shia Labeouf, Patricia Arquette, Henry Winkler)


The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien. Movie 2012

The Help – Kathryn Stockett. Movie 2011

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd. Movie 2008 (A young girl comes to terms with her guilt in South Carolina 1964)

As It Is In Heaven – Movie 2004 (Described as the best thing to come out of Sweden since Abba. Starring Michael Nyqvist. Great music too.)

As It Is In Heaven

Girl Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen. Movie 1999 (Account of author’s 18-month stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s. Starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder.)

Rain Man – Movie 1998 (Road-trip story about an autistic savant and his selfish, callow brother. Starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.

Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta. Book, Movie 2000. (A coming of age story, told with wonderful depth and humour). Also Marchetta’s novel, Saving Francesca.

Looking for Alibrandi

Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman has character development, surprises and imaginative plot twists down to a fine art, eg Coraline, Neverwhere etc. Gaiman is the exciting roller coaster ride at the amusement park. But Anansi Boys is one of my FAVOURITE stories for character development. If I say too much I’ll give the story away. The clever twist is reminiscent of Jungian sub-personalities and resonated for me whilst writing my novel, Arafura.

Anansi Boys

I will leave ROMANCE + CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT = SATISFACTION for my next blog, so please put on your thinking caps!

In the meantime, any stories with great character development (minus the lurv) that sparked your interest?

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10 Responses to Stories with great character development

  1. Lee-Anne says:

    A great post Susan, and I do concur absolutely – a story rests on the quality of its characters. As you say the current obsession in novels and films with writing/making sequels and multiple seasons -a nakedly commercial attempt to milk the popularity of what might have been an excellent text is often lost in the retelling and retelling… Year 8 loved Holes (novel and the movie)! 🙂

    • Thanks Lee-Anne. Holes is very clever, isn’t it? From memory three plots that twist and come together like a plait.
      I suppose multiple seasons of crime series fare better, but even my beloved Spooks characters did some out of character things. Adam and Ros could have died in more convincing circumstances!

  2. HazMo's Mama says:

    It’s embarrassing…..reading this post reminds me of how little reading (or indeed, movie or TV watching) I’ve been doing these past (small-child-rearing) years! And then, the occasional dabbling I do into television leaves me sorely disappointed at the dearth of really excellent, solidly developed (and grown) characters in any series. I LOVED Spooks for ages, and then the last couple of series left me out of love because the characters were getting excruciating (frankly, I was glad when Adam died). I thought that The United States of Tara was exceptional for its characters….but I think that got axed. Sadly.

    We’ve been exploring books for my biggest small person, who has a voracious appetite for the written word (be still my proud heart!). A big tick of approval was given to Danny the Champion of the World (Roald Dahl) – he especially loved the father/son dynamic and the fact that the father was imperfect. (as an aside, much better character development than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which we just read and it left me cold). I would nominate The Lorax as one of my favourite on his shelf.

    My recent best character book is Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood). How I loved that book for so many reasons. It really stayed with me…and I read it a good couple of years ago and I still think of the characters in that book (and its sequel The Year of the Flood). On a less “proper literature” note, there are a good few romance numbers I could add…but I’ll save that ’til Part 2.

    • Thanks for visiting! Firstly, I’m sure after a good night’s sleep you’d retract your comment about being glad that Adam died in Spooks:) I LOVED The United States of Tara but felt one series contained the plot nicely, not two.

      Danny the Champion of the World IS a true, underestimated gem. Dahl speaks to children on their level with a devilish wit and shares a child’s quirky view of the world. The BFG is brilliant, of course, as is Matilda. When your voracious reader is ready, may I suggest some books by Odo Hirsch? For real laughs and character development though, every child needs a good dose of Andy Griffiths. Just Disgusting and Just Crazy have had my Year 2’s in stitches. His characters go where most children wouldn’t dare, but they love the vicarious journey.

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll read Oryx and Crake.

      Looking forward to your romance suggestions!

  3. You’ve read Robert Munsch?! Ever read “Love You Forever?” $20 says you’ll be crying by the end. All mothers cry when they read this.

  4. Too scary for this mother! 🙂

  5. Truly wonderful post! And I must admit, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to outgrow The Paper Bag Princess. One of my favorite goodnight reads.

  6. One of the best books I’ve ever read (apart from the classics) was We Need to Talk About Kevin. I loved the character development of the mother. Funny because I’ve never liked anything else Lionel Shriver has written.

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