Creating a new character(s) can be daunting. After all, the best stories feature engaging characters. They’re a crucial aspect of your story.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula for creating characters your readers will love (or love to hate). There are both internal and external factors to consider that will help you create more dynamic characters readers will want to engage with.
Steps for Creating Interesting Characters
Before we get started, I want to add a disclaimer: How you come up with an idea for a character will depend on your own process. And that’s okay!
For example, when I’m working on creative writing projects, I usually get an idea when I see some kind of inspiration over on Pinterest. That means I sometimes start with my ‘basic character traits’ rather than goals and motives. Other times, I might start with a goal. It varies from project to project.
No matter what order you answer these questions in, it’s important to remember that goals and motives are ultimately the most important parts of your character. Those directly impact the plot.
(Not that your character’s other traits can’t influence things, but if I had to assign importance, goals and motives would be at the top of the list.)
With that out of the way, here’s what you need to consider when creating a character:
- Basic character traits
- Interactions with others
Let’s get started!
Basic Character Traits
We all know characters need things like names, ages, and physical characteristics. As I mentioned in the last section, I often think up new characters after seeing some visual inspiration on Pinterest (a pretty dress they could wear, an intriguing setting they might live in, or some other cue).
Here are some traits to explore as you develop your character:
- Physical traits (hair and eye color, height, etc.)
- Distinct markings (scars, tattoos, etc.)
You might be thinking, “Hannah, those are obvious.” And you’re right, but they’re still important!
Readers want to imagine your character, and these physical traits might impact how your character interacts with the world in your story. A tattoo or scar might even play into their backstory.
All of these sections tie together and feed into each other, so keep these basic traits in mind as you dig deeper into your character.
Your character’s personality is one part of what makes them interesting, so it’s important to dig deep into their personality and see what you uncover.
As you answer the following questions, consider why your character is like that and how this personality trait will affect decisions in the novel.
- Introvert or extrovert? Ambivert?
- Optimist or pessimist?
- How do they see themselves vs. how do others see them?
- Street smart? Book smart?
- How do they approach the world?
- What is their biggest flaw?
- What is their greatest strength?
- What is their worst fear?
This is a snapshot of what you might explore with your character. A great way to dig deeper is to see how your answers to these questions may play into and enhance other answers.
For example, as you consider their biggest flaw, see if that plays into their worst fear. How does their greatest strength offset some of that fear?
As much as we like to pretend we can compartmentalize, everything inside of us weaves together. It’s the same for characters, so don’t pretend their flaws exist in a vacuum separate from their fears and strengths.
Allowing these traits to interact and cause internal conflict makes for a far more intriguing character and storyline.
Interactions with Others
A character’s internal world is important, but so are their interactions with others.
- How would your introverted character react to a boisterous best friend or sibling?
- How does your extroverted character engage with the world when they’re feeling lonely?
- How do your character’s fears impact how they engage with not only their friends/family but also strangers?
- Are they more likely to listen to their fight or their flight instinct in an uncomfortable or bad situation?
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of questions, but there are dozens of questions you can ask yourself. You might also come back to this section as you populate your story with more characters to see how they play off each other and interact.
Backstory has the power to shape a character’s current situation or mindset, so don’t forget to draw on that history. This is especially true of dynamic characters (ones who undergo significant internal change).
- When were they most happy in the past? The most sad? The most scared?
- What secrets do they have? Do they need to protect these secrets? If so, why?
- What is their biggest regret? Why?
- Who were their role models growing up?
Use these questions to get you started, and as you answer them, see where your mind goes. You may find some interesting follow-up questions to ask yourself.
Goals and Motives
So, you’ve got a good snapshot of your character, but we’re still missing a big piece of the puzzle: goals and motives.
An interesting personality or a unique hair color isn’t enough to build an interesting character. Your character’s goal(s) and motivation will be a huge driving factor in your story and essential to your story moving forward.
- What do they want more than anything? What is their major goal within the story?
- What is their motivation for said goal? Why do they want this?
- What are they willing to do to get it?
These questions are essential to both your character’s development and your plot. Plot is all about your character overcoming what’s stopping them from reaching their goal, so knowing what that goal is will directly influence how you plot out your story.
Answer those questions while also considering how the character’s past and personality may come into play.
The Big Question: Why?
If you take anything away from this post, it’s that you need to ask why.
Why does your character hide their secret? Why do they only listen to their flight instinct? Why do they idolize their heroes? Why do they want that one thing so bad that they’re willing to overcome many obstacles to get it?
An interesting character isn’t interesting if they only exist in one dimension. Readers want to understand characters, to empathize with them. To do that on the page, you need to explore the why behind your characters and their actions.
Once you’re satisfied with your character’s early development, you can start looking toward character development arcs.
You know how your character is at the start of the story, so:
- How have they changed by the end?
- Did they even change? Why or why not?
Drop those seeds of change and setback throughout the story for an engaging character arc. But we’ll talk more about character arcs another day!
Your Next Steps
This post doesn’t have an exhaustive list of questions to answer about your characters, but it will provide guidance to get you started.
Get creative, dig deep, and ask yourself ‘what if’ and ‘why’ as you create characters.
For more questions to ask yourself about your character(s), go check out my (super old) character questionnaire post!