June 8th, 2020

The 8 C’s of Character Development

by Jenny Hansen

Every writer strives to create characters who leap off the page as unique, compelling, fully-formed people. We spend hours, days, and sometimes years to make them believable.

Recently, I attended a day job webinar that gave me new tools and perspectives for fiction. (I love it when that happens.)

The course detailed the eight characteristics every person needs to successfully navigate this “adulting” thing and realize their full potential. Here are my thoughts about tweaking these traits to help our own heroes and heroines as they journey through our stories.

Meet the “8 Cs”

We want our characters to be whole by the end of the story, or at least whole enough to fight another day. The list below, shared by a long-time social worker, contains the qualities people need to be fully actualized [aka happy], and some exercises that will help them “get there.”

The conundrum of happy characters often lies inside the artist. Most creative spirits are forged from adversity. As Richard M. Nixon said, “The finest steel has to go through the hottest fire.”

We want to put our characters through these hot fires of hell. We need to hold them to the flames to keep readers reading. But most writers also want their characters to find happiness by the time they write The End. It's especially difficult to keep our eye on the happy prize when the world around us is chaotic.

How do you mess with a character’s happily-ever-after under these circumstances?

Meet the 8 Cs:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Clarity
  3. Confidence
  4. Creativity
  5. Calm
  6. Courage
  7. Compassion
  8. Connectedness

How can we use these character traits?

Below are quotes, questions and affirmations for each quality that may spark ideas for your own characters. The smart writer will pick a few traits and ensure that their character is terrible at them.

Note: Angela Ackerman a post for us about a character’s unmet need, which is a great counterpart to this post. A character’s "lacking" qualities or their unmet need is the stuff of a great hero’s journey.

1. Curiosity

“Curiosity is one of the great secrets of happiness.” – Bryant McGill

An enquiring mind is a wonderful thing. People with highly developed curiosity are often healthier and happier. People with a well-developed sense of curiosity are often more mindful of their world, and more accepting of themselves.

Some questions:

  • How do I feel about this, and why?
  • What if I were more present right now?
  • What do I need the most right now?
  • What inner strengths have I discovered in this situation?

2. Clarity

“Out of crisis, comes clarity.” – Randolph O’Toole

The actual definition of clarity is “the quality of transparency or purity.” It means to have clearness, wisdom, an understanding of your world or situation.

In fiction, if you have a mentor in your book, they likely have clarity. How would this look on the page? What might this mentor say to your main character?

  • Breathe.
  • Find your refuge.
  • Respond, don’t react.
  • Dig deep.

3. Confidence

“It is confidence in our bodies, minds, and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures.” – Oprah Winfrey

Character affirmations to help underscore your character's confidence:

  • Celebrate victories.
  • Do your best. It will be good enough.
  • Be congruent.
  • I am me, and I am okay.

4. Creativity

“The creative adult is the child who survived.” – Ursula Le Guin

Mantras or sayings for a character brimming with creativity:

  • Has anything/anyone inspired you lately?
  • Everything in my life inspires me to create.
  • Express your thoughts and feelings your way.
  • I gift the world through my creative expression.

5. Calm

“Feelings are just visitors, let them come and go.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Everyone has a friend or family member who goes from zero to everything when it comes to their emotions. Calm is the opposite of that. Calm takes a moment to assess. Calm looks inward before it looks outward.

Does your character have calm? How do they use to progress your plot? Perhaps they lack calm. How does that hurt them?

If they have this superpower, here are their mantras.

  • Differentiate between fear, anger, and helplessness. Then lean in.
  • Don’t get hijacked by your feelings.
  • “Rest and digest”. Try not to just react.

6. Courage

“Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and than you think.” – Christopher Robin

Courage is what every great hero is made of. It's about willingness, effort and potential failure. It is about finding a way where there is no way.

How would a courageous character look?

  • They’d engage in authentic communication with others.
  • According to Brené Brown, they would allow themselves to be vulnerable.
  • They'd possess a willingness to be uncomfortable.
  • Also, an optimism that failure is not the end.

William Faulkner said, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

7. Compassion

“If I am not first for myself, then who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel

Love and compassion for others starts with love and compassion for one’s self. It is the hardest thing to remember for many of us and the easiest thing to forget in times of stress.

Characters who have compassion as their superpower should know the following:

  • Self-compassion is fundamental.
  • Find acceptance, not judgment.
  • Bring compassion to your pain.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield

8. Connectedness

“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self.” – Harriet Lerner


Do you have a character with a strong community or one who keeps to themselves? Do they want to be connected, but don't know what that looks like? Perhaps they build a community for others but don’t feel they deserve one of their own.

How does your character connect? What is their love language? Is it their time…gifts…actions?

Here are some philosophies the connected character might live by:

  • Nurture your inner strengths. Then share them.
  • Expand your generosity. Then share it.
  • Open your heart and your mind, as well as your arms.

Now it's your turn...

What is your main character's superpower trait? What are they terrible at? What other traits would you add to the list? Share your thoughts down in the comments!

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

19 responses to “The 8 C’s of Character Development”

  1. LauraDrake says:

    Way too much great stuff here to even mention - but this one hit me close to home.
    “The creative adult is the child who survived.” – Ursula Le Guin

    Thanks, Jenny!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That was my favorite quote too. Thanks Laura!

    • Eldred Bird says:

      Right there with you on this one, Laura. My mantra has always been, "Growing old is inevitable, but growing up is optional." If we want to keep our creativity, we have to keep the kid alive. The world looks so much more interesting through the eyes of a child. Never forget how to laugh, play, and look around you with innocence and wonder.

  2. dholcomb1 says:

    This is something which works for my current project. You're always spot-on with what I need.

    denise

  3. jamesr403 says:

    Oh, man, what a perfect essay! It came at just the right time. Jenny, this one is a keeper because I need to think about two, no three, characters in my current WIP and this has provided a structure. Thanks!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I'm delighted to hear it, James. I like it when something makes me re-examine my characters in a new way. Your storyboarding post last week did that for me, so I'm happy to return the favor. Good luck to you!

  4. Brad says:

    Hi Jenny,

    Just want to mention that using just part of Rabbi Hillel’s quotation and leaving out the second sentence distorts its meaning. Perhaps today even more than ever.

    Brad

    “I am not for myself, who will be for me?
    If I am not for others, what am I?
    And if not now, when?”

    Another famous one of his:

    That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.

  5. ecellenb says:

    I am also a fan of keeping the inner child alive and happy, even if that does occasionally get me in trouble.

    Lots of great information here. Thanks!

  6. Kris says:

    I've always had a soft spot for A.A. Milne insights. The quotes throughout the post are great.

    My character deals with becoming brave and living outside their preordained expectations.

    I like this list as I can use it to diagnose one of the minor characters I want to make stand out.

    Thanks, Jenny!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ooooooh - great idea to craft the minor character this way. Every character thinks it's THEIR book, so I always like letting a minor character shine. Particularly because I usually want to do a spinoff book. 🙂

  7. barbdelong says:

    Awesome post, Jenny! Connectedness - My character has walled himself off from others, protecting himself from hurt. His heart is closed off, until he's forced to work with others for something he truly wants. Love the Harriet Lerner quote.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That's fantastic, Barb. And by making him crappy at Connection, you've opened up so much plot possibility. Go you!! (And I adore all of Lerner's books. She makes such hard concepts so easy to understand.)

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