Saturday, August 13, 2011

Building Character

Characters can be tricky to build. I found it took weeks or even months for me to fully find myself inside a character’s head. But with deadlines now looming on the horizon, I do not have the luxury of letting characters simmer until well done. I need to know them now.

I’ve been busy the last few weeks nailing down the tweaks on a couple characters. And since I have this milling around inside my head, I thought I would share the questions/method I have been using.

1) Name. Even though I write fantasy, I like names that are familiar yet different and pronounceable.

2) Age. Obvious one, how old is the character?

3) Race. Irish? Jewish? Alien? Hobbit? What race is this character?

4) Core Personality. This is really the skeleton by which every other part of my character hangs on. I use a combo between Meyers-Brigg and DISC. Is the character an introvert or an extrovert? High paced or slow paced? Methodical or a dreamer? Whatever the core is, the character’s personality will color every other part of his or her being.

5) Physical appearance. Hair color? Length? Eye color? Skin? Body build? I usually go into great detail (just for my info) even going as far as eyesight and perhaps a sense more attuned than the others.

6) Birth order. Family is important and greatly influences for good or bad. Is this an only child? Siblings? Good home? Bad home? Left at the orphanage? What does my character think of his/her parents?

7) Culture. How has culture influenced my character? Is she from a tribal situation? Is he from the Depression Era? Is she technology savvy and knows how to text, twitter, email, and facebook all at the same time? What is important to that culture? Are there taboos? Does he/she fit in?

8) Religion. Christian? Atheist? Muslim? How devoted is the character?

9) Embracing God’s Approval. How does the character see his/her self? How do they think God sees them?

10) What is likable about this character? Sometimes this can be a hard one for me, especially if I am dealing with a logical bookworm. Why would others like this character?

11) How do others perceive this character? This is where I take all the other main characters and write out how they perceive this character. I also write out how this character would be perceived if met on the street. What are the first impressions?

12) Manner and topic of speech. Accent? Use big words? Proper or slang?

13) Inner journey. What is internal knot that is tripping this character up at the beginning of the book? Why is it harmful? What will happen if the character never changes? Does the character change? What causes the character to finally deal with it?

I hope these questions help you discover your character(s) beyond surfer dude, high school jock, timid housewife, or evil dictator. And to give credit where credit is due, I first heard these questions during a science fiction and fantasy writing track taught by Jeff Gerke at the 2010 Mt. Hermon Writing Conference.


  1. The details are in the character building....

  2. Yes they are. Funny enough, I find it easier to develop male characters than female (its one of my female characters I'm still tweaking).

  3. So vital to spend time building a character, and not just a cardboard cutout of a person. Whenever we meet a person in real life, we understand that he/she has been alive many years, has lived through experiences both good and bad, might conceal a hidden side no one sees, and also has both positive and negative qualities, just as everyone else on the planet. If the author doesn't put some thought into character, it will show.