How to Write a Damn Good Character

Characters are my favorite part to storytelling.  Out of Aristotle’s Six Key Elements (Plot, Character, Theme, Diction, Music, and Spectacle – which we can discuss in another blog post) character tends to be the most diverse and versatile.  Yes, the plot thickens, but how does that happen?  It happens based on character actions.  As the characters make their way through the story, they present the writer with countless “next step” options.  Your job, as the author, is to choose which option best suits the situation and the character’s personality.  That brings me to my main point.  

Character Development

Who is you character?  What do they want?  We can find the answers to these sometimes difficult questions by creating a character profile.  The more detailed the profile is, the easier it will be to figure out the next best step in the plot.  I’m not just talking about physical characteristics, but mental ones as well.  Here is a blank character profile I created to help me develop my literary children.  You can use as many or as few as you want.  Some may not apply to certain characters, or may apply later on.  For example: Occupation.  If your character is five years old, you may choose to omit that one.  However, if you plan on following the five year old into adulthood, you can answer it later.

Full name:

Reason/Meaning behind name:

Nicknames:

Reasons/Meanings behind nicknames:

Race:

Occupation:

Social class:

Physical Appearance

Age:

Eye Color:

Hair Color:

Hairstyle:

Weight:

Height:

Body Type:

Skin Tone:

Shape of Face:

Distinguishing Marks:

Predominant Feature:

Background

Hometown:

Childhood:

First Memory:

Important childhood event that still affects him/her and why:

Education:

Religion:

Family

Mother:

Father:

Siblings (in birth order):

Extended Family:

Favorites

Color:

Music:

Food:

Book:

Drink:

Least Favorites

Color:

Music:

Food:

Book:

Drink:

Personality

How does s/he spend a rainy day:

Most at ease when:

Philosophy:

If granted one wish, what would it be and why:

Past failure s/he would be embarrassed to have people know about:

Daredevil or Cautious:

Greatest Strength:

Greatest Weakness:

Soft Spot:

Is the soft spot obvious to other characters:

Optimist or Pessimist:

Introvert or Extrovert:

Special Talents:

Extremely skilled at:

Extremely unskilled at:

Positive Traits:

Character Flaws:

Mannerisms:

Peculiarities:

Biggest Accomplishment:

Minor Accomplishments:

Biggest Regret:

Minor Regrets:

Darkest Secret:

Does anyone know, if so how did s/he find out:

One word s/he would use to describe self:

How does s/he relate to others:

How is s/he perceived by strangers:

General

Current Location:

Habits:

Most Prized Possession:

Person s/he secretly admires:

Person s/he was influenced most by:

What was s/he doing the week before the story starts:

Mode of Transportation:

There are so many more questions one could ask about the character.  This list is comprised of the questions I use most when developing a new one.

Character development can take a long time.  I have completed the first draft of my very first novel, but I refuse to edit it until I get more character development underway.  I have heaps and heaps of characters in this story, so it is taking an exceptionally long time.  That’s okay though.  Well rounded, deep characters make for a much more fluent story.

You may think you know your characters, but I find it best to write in down in the above form.  This way, I won’t forget anything, and I’ll always be able to refer back to the profile when I’m unsure of a certain character’s next move.

I really hope this helps you with your own character development.  Just remember to take you time and don’t force it.  Until next time…..

-Darby

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