Characters can either make or break a writer’s story. Poorly developed characters or personalities which are at odds with an author’s intentions can turn an amazing story into an absolute chore for readers to delve through. This has happened so many times, where I have come across potentially fantastic plots that have been ruined by unsavoury or dull characters that appear to be little more than cardboard cut-outs. That’s why it is so important for writers to have a thorough think of how they are going to build their characters’ personalities and to have a reliable way of doing this. Whether you are writing a book or a short piece, below is a guide on how to create and develop characters for a story, and some character development questions. It is sure to add vigour to whatever you are working on!
1. character purpose and backstory
Your characters should add something useful to the story you are telling. Even if the characters is minor, the fact that you want to include them shows that they serve some sort of purpose. Therefore, some questions to think about are:
- What is the purpose of the character to the story you are telling and what is their backstory? Where are they from? What age are they?
- How does this then affect that character’s motives?
- Now that you have the answer to the 2 questions above, how do you want your readers to see this character in order to achieve the above?
- Next is putting it into action and deciding how to portray your character in the way described above.
2. Personality and characterisation
It is so easy to fall into the trap of boring character syndrome. Spend some time on deciding what type of personality the character has, and how to balance this out with your other characters too. Here are some character development questions.
- What are some adjectives you would describe your character as? Some examples would be brave, sly, chatty, shy, secretive, assertive. Once you have an idea of the basics it is a lot easier to stick to the personality type.
- Are there are changes in your character’s personality or views? This is often common in the hero (protagonist) of the story who improves their personality and views in some way. The same could also be said of villains.
- How and what does the character think and believe and how does this affect their personality and views? What are their hobbies, their likes and dislikes?
A common mistake is to assume that readers aren’t interested in apparent minor details. However, a lack of detail can be the factor that makes the character appear boring in a reader’s eyes. Describe the character’s appearance so that readers can paint a picture in their minds.
- Think about how tall they are, build, skin colour, hair colour and texture, eye colour.
- Are there any distinguishing points?
- What do they wear and how does this reflect who they are?
4. Body language
So now you know what they look like and what their personality is like. It’s time to look at body language and how the character presents themselves to different people.
- How will their personality come across in body language? For example, a shy character may appear closed off by standing in the corner of a busy room and may stick to talking to people they know. They may not face new people directly or be hesitant in their approach. Think about what they do with their arms and how they are standing.
- Do you want their body language to convey any clues to readers? This may be relevant in thrillers or romances.
How a character talks can convey a lot about their thoughts, values, and heritage. Tone of voice also plays a big part in portraying a character’s feelings in a scene.
- Do they have an accent? Is there any slang in their speech?
- What tone of voice should they use? Use a thesaurus for some ideas. How does this relate to their motive?
- How do they interact with different characters?
- Is there an internal dialogue from the first person and what will this show?
- How does their tone and choice of words reflect the character’s profile?
These are the 5 key steps on how to create and develop effective characters for a story. But this is only a start and characters can require re-developing.
Was this guide useful? Please let me know in the comments below!
How do you develop your characters when you are writing a novel or short story?