A guide to creating characters

Characters are the ingredients of a good story. Without good characters, readers will lose interest in what you’re trying to share. First of all, let’s focus on the basics. 

Note, this is not all of my own. It’s has been collated from various online courses I have done as well as online sources. It’s merely been written in my own words, changed and elaborated so as to give a full guide in one place and to share what I have learned.

The basics

Round characters – You will often hear people talking about round VS flat characters. Flat characters are boring, predictable and most likely simple. That’s not why people are reading books. What you need to create are round characters. These characters are intersting, unpredictable and best of all fun to use. A sign of a good character is one who controls the story. You, the writer or just following them with your pen. 

You have to add depth – You should be able to do this through the creation of your character anyway but it’s also an important topic to keep in mind. There are a few ways you can add depth to your characters. Simply, it’s a way to make your characters more human. For example by making your characters make mistakes or contradict themselves.  

Remember, a good character will misbehave and change your storyline as you write.

Minor characters – Minor characters are just as important in a story. It’s especially important to keep tracck of the ones you create to avoid mistakes such as changing there name or job role halfway through the story which can happy more often than you would think. If you lose track, make a list and pin a rememorable point to each character to help you e.g. a distincitve odor of dogs or a cleft lip. 

How to create your character – using what you know 

Below is a short list of pointers to focus on when creating your character. These won’t necessarily be included within your story but will help frame the character in your own mind. 

  • History, Experiences & Memories
  • Feelings & Desires
  • Language
  • Imagination & Observations
  • Ideas

Character Questionnaire

Below is a questionnaire, similar to that you would fill in for a dating profile. If you’re struggling to create your character then start from here and build on.

  • Name
  • Age
  • Place of birth/ Residence
  • Occupation
  • Appearance & Dress Sence 
  •  Strengths & Weaknesses
  • Obsessions & Habits
  • Ambitions
  • Hobbies
  • Illness/ General health
  • Family – Parents, Kids, Siblings
  • Friends
  • Pets
  • Politics
  • Pet peeves/ tics
  • Diet – Drugs/ Coffee/ Alcohol?
  • Sex life/history 
  • Favorite books, music, movies
  • Desires & Fears
  • Any Traumatic events?
  • Most wonderful experience
  • Struggles past and present

Create a Character Summary

Now you’ve filled in your questionnaire, create a character summary. This is similar to a bio. Write about what they look like, how they think, how they behave, where they live and some info on there back story. Where are they now and why. 

  • Physical description
  • Thoughts and inner life
  • Personality
  • Where the character is located
  • The character’s back story

Framing the character – Creating Reality 

Now you’ve got the basics of your characters it’s time to make them more real. 

  • Consider all the factors that go into making your character. Use the checklist for help. 
  • Know your character’s inner life, everything from how they think and act to the routines they have.
  • Know about your character’s behavior. What they wear, et, buy, how they act at work VS home. How they behave towards specific people e.g. parents VS people they don’t like. 
  • How does your character speak and how does this change according to mood or situation. 
  • Imagine your character and describe every little detail about them which makes them unique. Everything from there hair and moles to the way they dress and what they own. 

Questions to ask yourself 

  • What is your character thinking? 
  • Can you add little bits here and there about there backstory or past life? 
  • Can you put yourself in your characters shoes? 
  • Does how they behave match how they speak? Check for discrepancies.
  • How does your character act in the world? What would other people think of them VS what they think of themselves. 
  • Can you imagine the characters? If not then you need more detail.
  • Are your descriptions predictable and obvious? Are they generalized i.e. stereotypes or are they unique? 
  • How does your chracter contradict themselves. What is there innter turmoil? 

Let me know what you struggle with when creating your characters. Do you struggle to add depth? Maybe you struggle with the basics? For a bit of fun, create your own character using the above information and tell me about them as if selling them to me. 

6 thoughts on “A guide to creating characters

  1. Ive seen lists like this a Lot over the years. Mostly when creating characters for RPG’s. Thirtyeight years of throwing out characters to play and or for the other players to interact with has resulted in an almost subconscious system. But also a lot of space for them to grow as a result of those interactions. Too well filled out a character can result in a stiff, unyielding creature thats both dull to write and not much fun to read. For me anyway

    1. This website isn’t just about sharing stories. It’s about sharing guidance as well. I would advice following other blogs for stories alone.

  2. Playing RPG’s has had a very particular effect on me as a writer. Character is one of the more obvious ways, each character i write is in a small way one of my characters that im roleplaying as i write. How they react to each other is where it becomes most obvious as im essentially having them interact without really knowing how it will go but knowing how they think and what their desires/needs are 🙂

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