Characters, though fictional, are really just people you’re creating from scratch. They have complex backgrounds, personalities, desires, and relationships. But thinking about creating a whole complex person can be kind of intimidating. Answering a series of questions, starting with the basics and getting deeper over time, might help take some of the pressure off your character creation process.
Before you dive into this list, be sure to define this character’s role in your story. Are they a primary, secondary, or tertiary character? If you’re creating a small side character who will only be on the page for a couple of paragraphs, you probably don’t need to answer all of these questions. But if you’re creating a primary or secondary character with a large role in the story, definitely look at the whole list!
Character Development Builds & Intertwines
Creating strong characters is not about creating physically or magically strong characters (although it’s totally fine if they have those skills). It’s about character development over the course of the story, interesting backstories, a unique personality, and more.
Before we get started, there are two key things to remember:
- Everything about your character is going to connect to other aspects of who they are. Even basic demographics influence what your characters value, what opportunities they might have, what they might want, etc.
- Character development happens over the course of your book; you don’t need to info dump all of these details about your character into the first few chapters.
Though this list is split into categories for easy organization, creating your character is not such a simple step-by-step process. It’s going to get a little messy as you make connections between your character’s traits and decisions, goals and traumas, and more. Have fun with it!
Start with the basic demographic information. This will give you a solid foundation to build upon as you continue developing your character.
- Nicknames and/or aliases
- Age, and birthdate if applicable
- Gender identity and preferred pronouns
- Height, weight, and body type
- Hair, eye, and skin colors & textures
- Distinguishing features such as scars, tattoos, etc.
- Sexual and romantic orientations
- Is your character disabled? Chronically ill? Neurodivergent?
- What is your character’s everyday life like?
- If this is a fantasy story, does your character have magical abilities naturally? If not, can they learn magic?
- What are their mannerisms?
- Do they have a “tell” for when they’re lying or nervous?
- What does their external appearance say about their background and lifestyle?
- What’s their socio-economic class?
- What’s their education level?
- What did they study (if anything)?
- Do they have a job at the beginning of the story? If so, what is it?
- What interests do they have?
- What are their hobbies?
- Can any of their skills transfer to their journey/quest?
A character’s backstory—all of the stuff before that happens to them before the book you’re writing begins—plays into their personality and worldviews. We all have different backstories, influenced by things like our culture, our demographics, and personal identity. Keep these in mind as you continue answering the questions on the rest of the list.
- What is their general backstory?
- Where were they born? Is this where they still live?
- When were they born (both for their age and compared to your world’s history/time periods)
- What’s their greatest achievement?
- What’s their most painful moment?
- What’s their biggest secret?
Family and Relationships
Families, both families of origin and chosen families, are going to impact your character. It can influence their personality, beliefs, values, interests, and more.
- Are they an only child? If they have siblings, where do they fall in the birth order and what are those relationships like?
- Are their parents alive?
- Were their birth parents present throughout their lives, or did another guardian take over?
- Were they raised by a “village” of family and friends, or were they raised away from extended family and connections?
- Did your character feel like they fit in, or did they feel different than their family?
- How did their childhood and earlier life play into the way they interact with the world?
- How do they show up differently for different people? How do they interact with friends vs. their boss?
- Who are their current friends? How long have they been friends with them?
- Have they lost anyone, either through another character’s death, change in circumstances, making an enemy, etc.?
Personality, False Beliefs, and World View
Personality and how a character’s beliefs and views come into play might become clearer as you start writing your story. Try to answer these questions before you begin, though, to at least get a better sense of their personality.
- What’s their Myers-Briggs (MBTI) type?
- What are their flaws? These might be moral shortcomings, biases, etc.
- What false beliefs do they have about themselves and/or others?
- What are some of their quirks? These could be funny, charming, irritating, etc.
- What’s their world view? Why do they view the world that way?
- What haunts them? Think about regrets, losses, etc.
- In what ways do their internal thoughts contradict external actions?
- In what way do their internal thoughts match their external actions?
Goals, Motives, and Desires
Stories have overarching plots, but story is truly driven by decisions characters make and things they want. What your characters wants and needs is going to be a cornerstone of who they are and what decisions they make in your story.
- What’s important to your character? What do they value? Family? Money? Friendship? Safety? Loyalty? These values can be any number of things, physical or emotional
- How do these values either (a) remain the same over the story (b) change over the story (c) influence the character’s decisions?
- What does your character want? What do they need? (These aren’t always the same!)
- What are they willing to do to get either of those things?
- Why are they willing to do those things?
- How they might get in their own way in pursuit of their goals? How might their false beliefs, regrets, etc. influence their decisions and actions?
Bringing It All Together
This all leads to the internal and external push that makes for interesting stories and characters. Our internal worlds influence our external decisions, and things from the external world can shift our internal beliefs.
Stories, at their heart, are really exploring human nature and what it means to overcome adversity, fear, grief, loss, and more, especially in sci-fi and fantasy.
Thinking about all aspects of your character—backstory, personality, goals, desires, dreams, ghosts—and how it influences their decisions is the first step to exploring this internal push and pull. This is how character development unfolds on the page and how you’ll create engaging, interesting characters your readers will want to read about.