Writer's Tool Box

Character, Who Are You?

Creating characters, breathing life into them, can be a lot of fun. It can be as exciting as getting to know a new friend because in a sense that is exactly what you are doing. Of course tombstone information (name, date of birth and therefore age, as well as where a character lives) and physical descriptions (hair colour and length, complexion, eye colour, scars, tattoos, piercings, height, weight, and other defining physical features) are important. However, that information alone leaves a character flat and without dimension. Develop flaws in your characters; character flaws make them real. Flaws allow for growth and change. Originality and credibility are important characteristics as well.

It is recommended to know your character(s) well before writing. Character profiles are necessary tools, and taking the time to develop them well can help with the number of revisions and inconsistencies.

Questionnaires are a great way to get to know somebody. Create a character interview with each of your characters regardless of how minor or major a role their part is in the plot. I have wrote about forcing writing in a particular direction, a direction that it doesn’t want to go, and the lack of success I have when I try to do this. Similarly, when developing characters let the character develop in the direction they choose. Don’t force it.

I use a character profile folder where I store each character and their information sheets. I keep it easy to access for referencing and updating. The character profile can also be a great story generator. Some interesting things can develop from profile questions:

  1. What secrets are you hiding?
  2. Are you lying about something?
  3. What do you want from life?
  4. How do you react to strangers?
  5. What is your worst nightmare?

The goal when going through the question and answer period with your developing character is for you, the writer, to ask and the character to answer.

Here are some other helpful questions:

  1. Health?
  2. Sexual orientation
  3. Marital status
  4. Do you have children (How many, ages, gender…)?
  5. Siblings (How many, ages, gender)
  6. Who raised you?
  7. Other background questions: where were you born, school, other family, friends…
  8. What events in your life have shaped your personality and beliefs?
  9. Do you have enemies? Why?
  10. Goals/dreams
  11. Strongest quality
  12. What is your weakest quality?
  13. Fears
  14. Likes/Dislikes
  15. Hobbies – unusual hobbies
  16. Religion, education, wealth, career, social status
  17. Internal/external conflicts
  18. Is there something holding you back?
  19. Self-esteem (side question: what do you think others think of you, like strangers, friends, family…?)
  20. What is the first thing people notice about you?
  21. How do people respond to you?
  22. How do you learn?
  23. Trust
  24. Love
  25. Is there something you are really proud of? Ashamed of?
  26. If you could change anything about your life or yourself what would it be? Why?
  27. How do you respond to other things like various atmospheres, colours, smells, objects…?
  28. Temper
  29. How do you get what you want?
  30. What obstacles do you have to overcome to achieve your goals and desires?
  31. If you could have one wish what would it be?
  32. Greatest frustration
  33. Greatest source of joy

Beyond these types of questions it is important to establish a character’s function in the story and in the chapters of the story. Consider how the character changes throughout the story. As characters develop you can question one character’s relationship to another. Develop that background and history.

Layer your answers. Full rich responses will help bring your characters to life. If a question that you hadn’t planned develops answer it. The golden rule with characters inserted into the story is “Show, don’t tell.” Therefore, remember the senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and feelings. Overall, have fun creating your characters. Your love for them will shine through in your work.

By Shari Marshall -2017

Writer's Toolbox