When developing characters, we must learn everything we can about the external world in which they live, and what circumstances, just or unjust, are wrought upon them. Equally, or more so, we have to know how they react, or fail to, in conjunction with events.
Basic Character Questions
What is their most distinctive & defining characteristic?
It is helpful to define your character by plotting the extremes of their persona, and looking for the middle ground in between. For example, if your character is strong-willed, would it be more interesting if they were both fierce and indecisive? Another example would be whether the character was generous and often giving, or also showed a capacity to give and take in relation to a group or individuals they considered their friends or family.
What does your character want?
Knowing what a character wants means to know what attracts them and what they are always looking for. Is it power, honour or money? Is it love or will they settle for family? It is always easier for the reader to work out their feelings for the character when they can identify with their wants and desires.
What does your character think about?
Every character has a set of habits, preferences, and what they like or do not enjoy in common with the majority of society. Some will have something unique to them. For example, would your character give a gift, or spend it on themselves? Do they crave belonging or solitude? Perhaps they just want to be understood? If you know this, they will be easier for your audience to connect with.
What do others think of your character?
If your character were to walk into a room of people, how would the majority feel about or react to them? This is your character’s reputation, and it is best not to know what, if you know what you think of your characters, it is best to keep it to yourself.
What did your character do yesterday?
You need to know what establishes their reputation in the story, their habits, whether they like to gamble, or indulge with foods. It can be something very basic, such as what did they do yesterday? This can include a holiday, going to the theatre or even what they liked as a child.
What is your character’s biggest flaw?
A character can never be perfect, and is more interesting if there is something about them that is not quite right. This can be an event that occurred in their youth or for example, a missing limb. It is easier to identify with other characters if you can see both sides of their argument, even if you decide they are in the wrong, you will be able to understand where they are coming from.
What is your character’s strength?
Everyone has at least one good quality. This could be a generosity of nature, empathy or, possibly, a good sense of humour. The important thing about this element is it can be used to your advantage in developing the character. If the character is giving, ask yourself how they would feel after being taken advantage of. If the character is a good singer, how would they feel if their voice was taken away from them?
What are your character’s gifts and weaknesses?
Every character has something a bit special about them. This can be advantageous to you as the writer, because it can help to bond the audience to the character on their journey. For example: A character who can remember anything they see or hear is all right with you, is very likely to be useful to an audience remembering events and setting if they are not a particularly good writer.
What does your character want they cannot have?
Your character cannot be all things, and should have dislikes as much as likes. A common example is a character who is excessively religious and the audience can see why their actions cannot be necessarily true to the religion they espouse. This can be seen in the films Dead Again, True Romance and Go.
What are the flaws?
Your character is not perfect, and you need to know their inhibitions. For example it can be a stutter if they are named Owen, as seen in Wolf Creek. It is best to take your time when exploring this area, and don’t attempt to cover all the flaws at once.
What traits in common with my characters would they want to see in their children?
If they have a child or children, try to work out what they want their progeny to be, and if they can attain it.
What are the strengths of my characters?
You need to identify what your character finds easy to do, and to plot this against what they find difficult. This will help you begin to build their strengths and weaknesses pages.
Why does the reader care?
If you genuinely care about your characters, the reader is far more likely to do so as well. What makes your character likeable? What will make the reader hate your character? Passion and sympathy can make your character memorable. Learn what makes your characters tick, and how they came to be that way.
What would they say if they met an alien?
If your character is introduced into a situation that they don’t recognise, what would they do? Their reaction will show something about them. This is a good way of learning about their psychology.
How would they react to encountering the impossible?
Knowing what your character would think of or do in an extraordinary situation is good. How would they react if someone many miles away were about to do something to them? If they were going to be murdered? This will help you to see how they behave in extreme situations.
What is my character’s childhood memory?
This should make the reader sympathetic towards them.
What is the character’s view of the world?
All the characters in the story should have a different perception of the world. If a character was happy, the world would not be how they presumed it was. All kinds of events could befall the character which make them question what they think of as being normal.
What is my character’s relationship with God?
It is always good to explore the faith of your characters, even if they are not religious. Religion can bring a lot of conflict into stories, and can be overly used as a plot device.
What kind of future do they envision for themselves, and why?
Knowing what they hope to do in the future will help you to build their profile. You should know the route, for example, if they hoped to take the upward path of their career. Plans such as buying a house, or having a child, can establish their status quo.
What is my character’s attitude towards work?
A character that enjoys their job is one that we will like more. A character who spits upon their boss and works against them is a character we can all identify with. If someone was to apply for a job and their reason was simply to commit the company to financial ruin, a character we can all dislike. If your character liked what they did, why wouldn’t they?
What is the character’s attitude towards their parents?
Another well-used plot device is a character’s hatred for someone whom they consider to be a bad parent. The more you know of that parent and the circumstances around their upbringing, the more you can draw from that character’s view of the world.
What is the character’s attitude towards their friends and people in general?
Is your character a loner or a social person? Do they have a job that requires long hours and a solitary involvement? Having a lone character is much easier to write with someone as a foil against whom they can react.
What achievement has the character strived for?
What is the character’s highest dream?
Each and every person has a dream, and this is a good way to ring them out. Everyone is striving to be something, and is just as human as everyone else, even if there are other motivations to their actions (which can make them happy or miserable) such as a desire to kill, revenge or the like.
What is the character’s motivation?
All people have their own likes and dislikes, plans and aspirations, and motivations to why they do things, whether good or bad. In order to write a convincing, full-fleshed character, it is necessary to look at their motivations; what made them that way and if they are happy with their lot.
What is their opinion on major issues?
In dramas, it is possible the character will be affected by the events. If you are writing a love story, what is their stance on love? If they despise love, it will affect how they react to events in the story.
What will the character do if they have an accident?
Depending on what the accident is, it could affect the character greatly, and give opportunities for great character development. Perhaps there are drugs they are allergic to for example? Unusual or unfortunate happenings can make the character much easier to write.
What does my character love or hate?
What does my character hate about themselves?
What does my character do behind closed doors? This is very important, especially if this includes criminal activity, as it will make the character much more believable.
What is the character’s favourite/least favourite food?
What is the character’s greatest fear?
What is the character’s favourite and least favourite colour(s)?
What is the character’s favourite animal?
What is the character’s favourite song/piece of music?
The personas of the characters should be established in fine detail as the most complicating element of a story is the personality of the various characters involved. In addition, the personalities of the characters are often a way of showcasing the author’s own personality and attitudes. If you are writing a war novel, will the lead character be a sensitive man, a cold hard killer, or an oddly droll individual? Take some time to work out the answers to these questions and you can be sure you will have a full and convincing story.
What kind of social class is my character a part of?
Knowing the social class of the characters can help you flesh them out. A Lady will behave differently than a peasant. What will they do differently? If they are of a higher social standing, what is their motivation for their actions? Remember also, how people communicate in different social classes, it may be best to write in the appropriate manner, or better still, research how they act and speak.
What is my character’s body language?
Different body languages can exhibit different kinds of relationships between characters. This also goes hand in hand with character attitude. Don’t be afraid to use it.
What quirks does the character possess?
Every character should have some manner of quirk, and this will define them further.
Why are they important in the story?
The reader must care about the character. Relying on the reader to care can be difficult. The reader wants to care, and to see human vulnerability. It is up to you to tap into their urge to like your characters, learn their emotions and to like the characters. This could include, how they communicate to each other, how they interact. The way your characters speak to each other is incredibly important in bringing the reader into the world of the character. The reader needs to be able to relate to your characters in order for them to care about them. In addition, it is important to learn the language your character speaks, their politeness and rudeness, their stereotypes about race, age and sex.
What does my character think of the author?
If the author is writing about the character, whether or not they are aware of it, is another important aspect of creating your characters. If they are aware, they will be trying to bring their personality into place. Remember to base the character off a real life person, or it will seem like a caricature of humanity.
What are their memories of childhood?
If the story takes place in the past, childhood memories can be a good way to draw a character out. A character’s past can be a good hook, and can often be used to further the reader’s feeling for the character.
What is their greatest fear?
Knowing the character’s greatest fear is a quick and sure way to humanize the character, and give them a dimension they otherwise would not possess.
Does my character dream?
Science has proven that everyone dreams. This is important to know in order to write the character to the wonders of dreaming. The ways of dreaming, what they do and why they dream are important to the character’s overall personality, and who they are.
What is the character’s attitude to death?
Each one of us, deep down, has an opinion about death. Your character will too. It may be that the character is afraid of death, it may be that they are ambivalent towards death. To know death means to know life and to understand the meaning of life is to understand death as well. Death is not a bad thing, if it can help us to live life to the fullest.
What are the character’s thoughts on war?
Depending on the setting of the story, a war may occur, or war may have ended. What is the character’s opinion on this? Who is right and who is wrong? Is the war just, or is it a waste of time? Is your character an anti-war campaigner, or a soldier on the front lines?
How does the character celebrate the holidays?
Some of the most popular holidays are Christmas, Halloween, Eid, New Years, and Easter. These are the holidays that are the most pervasively celebrated by individuals. Each holiday has its own personal tradition attached. In many instances, the holiday is only celebrated on a particular date. The holidays are a key aspect to a character’s self-identity, and can be used to empathise the types of values they hold.
How does the character feel about students?
This is important because the character may be a teacher, like to teach, teach for a living, or dislike the practice.
What are the character’s favourite and disliked types of music?
Music is one of the best ways to assert a character’s personality to the reader. Music is a primary form of human expression, and can be depicted by a series of synchronous tones or pitches that can all form into an original and interesting piece of music. Musical knowledge is a primary factor to a character’s intelligence and is often used to depict characters intelligence.
Is the character wise?
In every story, there is a need to have a wise figure. This character can be the Boss, the Wise Man, or the Guardian Angel. This wise character will have prominent opinions, and people will often come to them for insight. This character could also be a scientist, or a brother. This character could be a computer, or an apprentice.
How does the character feel about their appearance?
The appearance of the character is important. Does the character try to come across as a good person, or could they be hiding behind a persona they created for themselves. A character’s appearance will affect others’ opinions of him. A wise character will not be judged on appearances, but perceived by their actions.
What is the character’s attitude towards money/material possessions?
If you are going to write a character who owns things, then you will know much more about the things they own, but also, about money. Material possessions speak a great deal about someone, but it should not be the only thing you know about them. Money is a form of freedom, and can be used to judge the character’s worth.
What does the character eat?
What are their favourite drinks and their least favourite? A character’s diet can give a lot away. This is important for writing.
What is the character’s family like?
Depending on the story, this may be an important aspect of character development, and could even be the main reason for a character waiting to be rescued or otherwise overcome adversity. The family should not be ignored.
What is the character’s attitude to other people in the story?
This is a good way to tell about the character in regards to how they interact with other people.
How does the character deal with failure?
Life is full of failures, and every character will face it at some point. This is one of the most important parts of a character’s life. How the character deals with failure will make the character grow or crumble.
How does the character dress?
What clothes does the character wear?
These must have some relevance to the character. After all, it is not every day that people wear something different. What kind of role-model is your character?
What does the character dream about?
Determining what a character dreams about will show the reader what it is that they want, and what they like to do.
What are the character’s hobbies?
These should be a reflection of their personality.
What does the character eat for breakfast?
In what order does the character eat their food? This can be used to portray the character’s self-control and self-discipline.
What is the character’s attitude to education and experience?
What type of education does the character have? Is this a good thing or bad thing?
How does the character feel about others?
Everyone feels a certain way about others. This may be a matter of personal preference, sex, weight, smell, looks, intelligence, wisdom, experience, or a combination of these.
How does the character feel about their body?
Human beings are often dependent on various parts of their bodies, and may feel these are weak, or that they are superior.
What is the character’s biggest regret?
If there is a mistake the character has made, it is important to know. A character’s story may change because of a regretful event, and this, a key part of the character’s development.