characters and creative writing

Character writing: Complete guide to creating your cast

Creating characters who spring to life on the page is vital for filling your story with people your readers can love, despise, relate to. Read a complete guide to creating characters.

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 11 Comments on Character writing: Complete guide to creating your cast

characters and creative writing

This character writing guide is a one-stop resource for creating characters in fiction. Learn key characterization terms, how to develop characters, how to write stronger character descriptions, and more. Use the links to jump to the character writing subtopic you want to explore now.

Character terms: Key concepts

Read useful character definitions plus a concise explanation of important concepts in character writing.

To develop characters to cast your story, it helps to understand what is:

A figure in a book, play, film or video game or other media. They may be human (e.g. Anna Karenina), animal (e.g. Beatrix Potter), hybrid, alien, or an anthropomorphic object (e.g. Mr Potato Head in Toy Story ).

We also use the word to describe the qualities and traits that create personality or persona. For example, we say a very giving or altruistic person has a ‘selfless character’.

Characterization

The way a character is built through narration and other dramatic and narrative devices (such as voice, action, reaction, habits, strengths, flaws and other details).

Character development

Often used synonymously with characterization – the way a character grows and changes (’round’ characters develop whereas ‘flat’ characters like Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote don’t and are more static).

Short for ‘goal, motivation and conflict’ this term (popularized by Debra Dixon in GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict ) refers to core elements of character development.

Goals are what characters want, motivations why they want then, and conflict the obstacles (internal or external) that complicate the path to success.

Character arc

The change process a character undergoes in a story due to its events. Character arcs include the rising and falling action (or peaks and valleys) of setback and disaster (valley) or progress and triumph (peak).

Many arcs are archetypal and common to many stories, such as ‘rags to riches’ (e.g. the character arc of ‘Cinderella’).

Character background that informs who your character already is when your story picks up (it may be alluded to, shown in flashbacks, or not shown but used by the author to inform a character’s personality and actions and reactions).

Recommended reading

  • Direct vs indirect characterization: How to show and tell
  • Character background: 7 tips to write better backstory
  • Characters of personality: 7 concepts for richer stories

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Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at. Goethe

Organize and outline character ideas

Use Now Novel’s story dashboard to brainstorm character ideas and get help from a caring critique community.

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Character types: Roles and parts in stories

7 types of character - infographic

There are many character types, archetypes, and sometimes even stereotypes. Specific kinds of characters go with specific genres (for example, an amateur sleuth belongs in a cozy mystery).

Read a brief overview of character types plus find helpful articles exploring classes of character (and how to write them) in depth:

Overview of common character types

Archetypes are universal types of characters that recur in fiction and mythology.

The Swiss psychoanalytic theorist Carl Jung was instrumental in developing this concept, particularly in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious .

Key character archetypes and what each values:

  • Caregiver – values service
  • Ruler – values control
  • Artist – values creativity/innovation
  • Innocent – values safety
  • Explorer – values freedom
  • Everyman – values belonging
  • Jester – values pleasure
  • Lover – values intimacy
  • Hero – values mastery
  • Magician – values power
  • Outlaw – values liberation
  • Sage – values knowledge

Learn more about archetypes:

Character archetypes - Now Novel on archetypal characters

Character archetypes: How to enrich your novel’s cast

Learn about archetypal characters and using this concept to finesse goals.

Story archetypes blog post header

Types of stories: 7 archetypes (and ways to use them)

Learn about story archetypes such as ‘Rags to Riches’ and ways to use them.

Stereotypes

Stereotypes are clichés that may be harmful or offensive to people with specific identities or histories in how they tend to ignore, oversimplify or ‘flatten’ human complexity. They are often used for ‘edgy’ or politically incorrect humor.

Often they have complex political or even propagandistic undertones. For example, the trope of the ‘angry black woman’ is often criticized for falsely representing BIPOC women as inherently aggressive in a way that dismisses history or the nuances and responsibilities of representation.

Another stereotype that is that sometimes found in writing is that which is concerned with LGBTIQ+ characters . Avoid tropes such as the ‘sissy villain’ or ‘gay best friend’, for instance.

Learn more about avoiding simplistic stock character types: Character tropes: 5 tips to avoid stock types .

Round vs flat characters

‘Round’ or three-dimensional characters are often compared to ‘flat’ characters who don’t have as much change or development.

‘Pip’, the hero of Dickens’ Great Expectations is an example of the round type. He changes as his fortunes and personal wealth change, from a scared orphan crying in a graveyard at the story’s start to a ‘new money’ young man in fancy clothes thanks to a mysterious benefactor.

This character type is typical of a bildungsroman or coming-of-age story like Dickens’ novel. A flat character like Sherlock Holmes may go through diverse story scenarios but tends not to change or develop much in persona. They may have catchphrases they always say, such as ‘elementary, my dear Watson’, or stock phrases such as James Bond’s martini order.

Flat characters are often the comforting constant in a sea of change.

Protagonists

Protagonists or main/primary characters are the primary decision-makers in a story who propel its action.

Stories may have one or more protagonists, and they are often discussed alongside antagonists . A protagonist may be a hero (in that they pursue the greater good or uphold values that are societal norms) or antihero (for example, a protagonist who commits murder like Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment ).

Learn more about writing strong protagonists:

Protagonist Examples | Now Novel

Protagonist examples: Creating memorable main characters

Learn what makes main characters memorable and how to write protagonists.

characters and creative writing

  • Main character writing: 6 ideas for a strong key cast

Learn how to write a main characters with tips to ensure a strong key cast.

Antagonists

Antagonists are primary opponents whose desires compete with or oppose the protagonist’s own.

For example, the stepmother with her jealousy and poison apple in Snow White .

Learn more about writing antagonists:

Antagonist examples from books | Now Novel

Antagonist examples: How to write great adversaries

Learn from antagonists in novels and what they teach us.

characters and creative writing

Main antagonists: How to write real opponents

How do you write an opponent who seems real? Find out.

Secondary characters

These are peripheral or important characters who may fulfil important roles to main characters such as:

  • Friend/confidant
  • Mentor/guardian
  • Sidekick/henchman (depending on whether allied to the protagonist or antagonist)
  • Love interest (though this may also be a protagonist, especially if they are a primary viewpoint narrator during the story – more on this below)

The above types of secondary characters are involved secondary characters because they take part in the action.

Non-involved secondary characters include extras (for example the crowd in a stadium, maybe briefly described) and walk-ons (characters who pass through the story and fulfil a set purpose, for example the ‘friendly innkeeper’ type).

Learn more about the uses of background characters: Writing background characters: 5 uses

Genre-specific character types

In addition to the broad types above, there are character types specific to different genres (though not all the types below necessarily appear, for example, a hero might not have a sidekick):

  • Romance: Romantic leads, friends, rivals
  • Comedy: ‘Straight man’ or foil (the serious character who contrasts a comedic part or goof )
  • Fantasy: Hero/heroine, villain, sidekick, guardian/mentor
  • Crime thriller: Detective, police officer, victim/survivor, witness, suspect
  • Mystery: Sleuth/detective (pro or amateur), suspect, lead
  • Science fiction: Scientist, (space) explorer, cyber expert, inventor
  • Action: Hero/heroine, villain, adversary, sidekick, love interest

The treatment of these different character types is often guided by genre. For example, a love interest in an action story may simply provide the protagonist something (or someone) to fight for, to risk losing.

In romance, by contrast, the unfolding romantic relationship is at the center of the story – the action overall revolves around the relationship (and not necessarily beating ‘the bad guys’).

  • Writing a heroic journey: 8 tips for epic arcs
  • Types of antagonists: Creating riveting opponents
  • Creating dynamic characters and static types: 7 ideas
The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always, ‘What does the protagonist want?’ David Mamet

Character ideas: Ways to come up with your cast

Finding character ideas for a story is a lot easier once you have a central idea, your story’s premise or scenario.

Use the ‘Central Idea’ prompt process in Now Novel’s story dashboard to brainstorm and finesse a story idea to start.

Once you have your story idea, to find character ideas and finesse them:

Create character profiles

Think of a character profile like an ID that tells way more than age, gender, birthdate and birthplace.

You could create a PDF for each character and save these to Google Drive and create a spreadsheet with links to each document (our downloadable story PDF grows as your ideas do, with pagination and clear sections for each character).

Organize your character research and brainstorming so that you can refresh your memory on what you’ve already established for your characters easily. This is especially useful if you’re writing a series or epic with a large or revolving cast of characters.

‘Reverse cast’ your story

Look at Pinterest boards or use AI image creation tools like This Person Does Not Exist to find inspiration for the look, feel and style of a character.

Build characters from your scenario

Read through your story idea summary and brainstorm characters whose goals, motivations and conflicts align to your idea (keep reading for more on GMC and how to use it to develop characters).

  • Novel characters: 15 top character creation tips
  • How to write character profiles: 10 tips and a template
  • Character profiles: 5 questions for a detailed cast

Ways to come up with characters - infographic

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. Ernest Hemingway

Character development: Creating characters who change

In great stories, who, what, why, where and when change in meaningful ways.

Developing characters ensures your reader will go on a journey with emotional highs and lows.

Learn about core drivers of character development – goal, motivation and conflict – as well as how to create character arcs with structure and satisfying shape in this section.

Character development - 7 elements infographic

Character goals: What the cast of your story wants

Goals in developing characters are crucial. Your characters may have several types of goals as your story progresses. For example:

  • Initial goals: The first steps your characters must take, what they need to achieve in the opening scene of your story
  • Surprise goals: Spur-of-the-moment decisions characters make, new plans that arise out of setbacks, conflicts, and unexpected events
  • End goals: Your characters’ ultimate objectives (such as Frodo destroying the One Ring).

Learn more about characters and desire in storytelling:

Character development - 9 tips for character arcs | Now Novel

Character development: 9 tips for arcs with depth

Learn how to give your character arcs dimension and depth.

characters and creative writing

How to develop a character: 7 simple steps

Read seven steps to ensure your characters develop in your story.

Motivations: Why characters want what they do

Motivations are crucial to creating a character and their goals. Why people desire things is intrinsically linked to their broader story, beliefs and emotions.

A despotic king, for example, might demand total obedience because he fears rebellion and wants to stay in power.

Your characters’ motivations might arise from one or more of the following:

  • Beliefs, whether true or false (for example, an archetypal caregiver such as a nurse in WWII may believe in the good of caring for the injured)
  • Backstory and formative experiences (a person may work doubly hard for success or self-sabotage due to what they’ve been through)
  • Basic necessity such as the need for sustenance, freedom, shelter, love, etc – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  • Personality and values For example the ‘Explorer’ archetype might seek out wild adventure for the thrill of the unknown

Learn more about creating characters with compelling motivations:

Understanding character motivations | Now Novel

Character motivations: 6 questions

Read questions on what drives characters.

characters and creative writing

100 character development questions

Find character questionnaires to flesh out arcs.

Conflicts between characters (and within)

Conflict is equally crucial to developing characters in stories. In Greek mythology, Hercules becomes the hero precisely through completing tough tasks that test his ingenuity and resolve.

In this part of this guide, we’ll explore types of conflict that drive character development.

Two conflict types in fiction: Internal and external

There are two broad categories of conflict in stories: Internal conflict, and external conflict.

Internal conflict

Internal conflict is your character’s inner struggle . It may arise from:

  • Contradictory desires (such as ‘being the hero’ versus ‘staying safe’)
  • Flaws or wounds (for example, a dancer who had a bad experience with a teacher may be hesitant to keep pursuing their passion)
  • Beliefs or doubts that impede action (for example, someone who is given a quest or task who does not yet believe in their own ability)

External conflict

External conflict refers to conflict between characters (or between a character and their environment, society, or other external sources). It arises from many sources including:

  • Conflicting desires between characters (for example, a relationship where one spouse wants to emigrate but the other does not)
  • Conflicting goals (for example, a hero must destroy an object that is the antagonist’s only hope of returning to power)
  • Hostility of environment or society (for example, a woman in a patriarchy struggles against the narrow or oppressive gender roles prescribed, like in The Handmaid’s Tale )

How does conflict develop characters?

Conflict develops characters because it:

  • Supplies stakes or ‘worst case scenarios’ should your character fail (for example, an out-of-work character being evicted if they can’t find a job)
  • Makes characters’ path toward victory more uncertain (and thus often requires personal change or mastery)
  • Makes action necessary for resolution: Conflict is unsustainable, forcing characters to act if they are to find peace, shelter, safety or harmony

Learn more about internal and external conflict and character development:

  • External and internal conflict: Examples and tips
  • How to use central conflict and drama to drive your novel
  • Creating villain motivations: Writing real adversaries
  • Writing character backstory that feels real: 5 tips
  • Development of characters: 6 intriguing ways we change
  • Character arc template: 5 steps to strong character arcs
  • How do you write character growth? 7 tips

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Characters and conflict: Driving change and stakes

We examined the two main types of conflict between characters above. In this section learn about types of conflict that could drive your story’s action.

Key types of conflict between characters include:

  • A struggle with self (often called ‘man vs self’). Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a classic example of this kind (a legal practitioner investigates a man with a dangerous, urge-compelled alter ego).
  • Person vs person conflict (also known as ‘man vs man’). This is a very common type of conflict in epic fantasy in which a hero faces off against a powerful magician or tyrant (e.g. Frodo vs Sauron in Tolkien’s famous fantasy cycle).
  • Person vs nature is a classic type of conflict common in survival and adventure stories (such as, for example, The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, or the survival drama 127 Hours ).
  • Person vs society Some characters face not just a single foe but a society in opposition to fundamental desires or needs. A classic example of this is the ostracized Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter .

Learn more about types of conflict, external and internal, and how to use them to create interesting adversity in stories:

characters and creative writing

Using conflicts in a story: 6 helpful conflict examples

Read about 6 core types of conflict in fiction.

characters and creative writing

Making external conflict compelling: 6 ideas

Learn ways to make external conflicts in stories engaging.

Learn more about types of conflict your characters may encounter:

  • Person vs society: 6 types of story conflict
  • 6 intriguing conflict types in fiction: Man vs nature
  • 6 conflict types in fiction: Man vs self
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. Toni Morrison

Describing characters: Bringing fictive people to life

Character description is intertwined with character development. The stories of our lives and experiences are written on our bodies and in our speech. In this section of this guide, learn how to create vivid, varied character descriptions.

Ways to describe characters

There are almost infinitely varied ways to describe your characters, including:

  • Physical features such as faces, bodies, the clothing your characters wear, the personal ways different characters might style the same outfit
  • Movement and gesture such as posture, gait, habitual poses and expressions
  • Voice including your characters’ vocal timbre and pitch, diction (how formally or informally they speak), accent and dialect. Written characters differ from film because narration provides voice too, not only spoken dialogue (or the occasional voiceover)
  • Actions your characters’ actions describe their personality because they reveal personality traits (such as loving drama or being loyal, valuing others’ trust or deceiving whoever they can to get ahead)

See how to describe characters in varied ways with the help of these resources:

How to describe - complete guide header

How to describe to immerse readers (complete guide)

Read a complete guide to writing description with examples from varied genres.

characters and creative writing

How to describe a person vividly: 8 ways

Learn how to write descriptions that build personality and more.

Physical description

  • How to describe eyes in a story: 7 simple tips
  • Character posture: How to describe characters’ bearing
  • How to describe hands: 6 ways to make characters real
  • How to describe clothing in a story (with examples)
  • Describing characters: How to describe faces imaginatively
  • Character mannerisms: Describing character quirks and tics

How to describe voice and speech

  • Realistic dialogue: Creating characters’ speech patterns
  • Character voices: How to write persona using voice
  • How to write accents and dialects: 6 tips

How to create characters’ personalities

  • What are good character traits? 7 helpful attributes
  • Character flaw list: 30 intriguing character flaws

General characterization

  • How do you write good character description? 5 techniques
  • Direct characterization: 6 tips for precise description
  • Indirect characterization: Revealing characters subtly
  • How to create a believable character: 8 tactics
  • How to introduce characters: 6 ways to be memorable
  • Characterization examples: 5 ways to reveal characters

How to Write Scenes Free Guide

GET YOUR FREE GUIDE TO SCENE STRUCTURE

Read a guide to writing scenes with purpose that move your story forward.

Narration and POV: Who tells your story?

The narrator is the person or voice telling the story.

If your narrator is an involved character (and not a neutral narrating fly-on-the-wall voice), we say the story has an involved narrator . When you have an involved narrator, how your narrator tells the story (their language, voice, tone) builds characterization, too .

Point of view and types of narrator

Point of view (abbreviated to POV) refers to both whose point of view the story is told from, and the person used (for example, first-person narration using ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ versus third person using ‘he’, ‘she’, plural ‘they’ or gender neutral).

The point of view you choose for your story has specific character effects.

For example, if you use a first-person narrator, you can only tell the reader what that character knows, assumes, or makes up, while they are the viewpoint narrator (the person currently telling the story). Unlike an omniscient narrator , the first-person narrator cannot share other people’s private thoughts (unless they are a mind-reader).

How to create characterization via narration:

  • Think about worldview or outlook: What is your narrator’s personality, politics, value system? How does this affect what they share?
  • Bring in backstory or vocation: A visual artist may be more specific than others when describing colors, for example, or may use more metaphors borrowed from visual art
  • Think about demographics: Where is your character from, and what is their age, class position, gender identity? Are any other demographic details significant? These may inflect their narrative voice ( or their narrative voice might not immediately give away one or more of these details)

Learn more about ways to build characterization via narration:

  • How to write deep POV: 8 tips and examples
  • How to write multiple points of view in a novel: 8 tips
  • Point of view: Complete guide to POV in stories
  • Building a bold narrator’s voice: 5 methods
  • The unreliable narrator: Creating surprise in your story
In a portrait, you have room to have a point of view and to be conceptual with a picture. The image may not be literally what’s going on, but it’s representative. Annie Leibovitz

Character questions: Prompts to populate your story

Character questions and questionnaires provide a useful way to delve deeper into your characters.

In our writing webinars, Now Novel writing coach Romy Sommer compares what you include about your character in your story to the tip of an iceberg. What the reader sees might not be everything you’ve dreamed and invented. Yet beneath the surface, there’s that depth, that anchoring.

Character questionnaire example

The first version of Now Novel’s story dashboard (revised 2018) included 15 categories of character questions to flesh out ideas for your cast:

  • Demographics : E.g. ‘How old is this character?’
  • Appearance : E.g. ‘In what style do they wear their hair?’
  • Character specific : E.g. ‘Why is this character dissatisfied?’
  • Work: E.g. ‘What do they do for a living?’
  • Relaxation: E.g. ‘What are this character’s hobbies?’
  • Food: E.g. ‘What kind of food do they like eating?
  • Stuff: E.g. ‘What would they grab if their home were on fire?’
  • Home: E.g. ‘Describe their living space’
  • Family: E.g. ‘Are their parents still alive?’
  • Childhood: E.g. ‘Did they have a happy or unhappy childhood? Explain.’
  • Friends: E.g. ‘Who is their best friend?’
  • Relationships: E.g. ‘What is the thing they argue about most in relationships?’
  • Money: E.g. ‘What is their relationship to money like?’
  • Fears: E.g. ‘What is their greatest fear?’
  • Demeanor/personality: E.g. ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, how annoying do others find them?’

Not all of the above questions will be relevant for your character. Yet filling in questionnaires such as the above is a great way to get to know your characters as though they are real (and avoid the caricatures Hemingway warns about).

Read more questions to develop your characters:

  • Character development questions: Building character arcs
  • 6 creative writing exercises for rich character
  • 50 creative writing prompts to enrich your craft

What is a character writing question you’ve been thinking about? Share it in the comments. Start brainstorming characters now and outline and draft scenes with your character outlines in a helpful sidebar in the Now Novel Writing Pad or in Google Docs with our Docs add-on .

Now Novel is a great platform for all writers to check out – especially for plotting, brainstorming, characterisation and even world building. Their customer service is top notch and I highly recommend NN! – MJ

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  • Tags character development , how to create characters

characters and creative writing

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

11 replies on “Character writing: Complete guide to creating your cast”

Many thanks. Had I read this post before writing my competition entry, i would have known better how to write a vivid description of a person.

It’s a pleasure, Ohita. Sorry for the delayed response – Disqus’ notification system is a little erratic. Glad you enjoyed it.

You should write a book about writing a book:))

That was gooooooooooooooooood!

yeah, I totally agree with @Mari@mariefeierabend:disqus , you gotta make a book about it!

btw recently seen this one too https://youtu.be/agSqtI9GICI actually couldn’t resist the temptation to share ahahahha I liked it so much too)

[…] and particular. Instead of describing a character who ‘loves freedom’, for example, describe a character’s actions and experiences that demonstrate this love of freedom. This gives readers a more visual and empathetic […]

Do or have any advice for characters who are based off of a real person?

Hi Katie, thank you for your question. It’s quite a broad one but I would say:

  • Do your research: What can you find out about the person that may surprise readers?
  • Be careful with living people – if the person is still living, you could run into issues around privacy/defamation (if the character does anything unsavory, for example). If necessary, change enough details (particularly the name) to make the identity of the person more ambiguous.
  • Make a list of features or a character profile as though they were a fictional character. Think about their greatest strengths and flaws, their backstory and what their core goals, motivations and conflicts may be leading into your story.

[…] Read advice on how to write better characters. […]

I like to make characters

how can you make a character. thank you ms. yanezz

Hi Stephanie, thank you for your question. Is there a specific aspect of character creation you’re finding challenging? One way to find character ideas Now Novel writing coach Romy suggested in a webinar was to create a Pinterest board and pin images of interesting faces and people as character inspirations, and to use these images as starting points for brainstorming personality details, goals, motivations, etc.

You can find all of our character-writing articles here .

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Writing Compelling Characters

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For readers to connect with a character, they generally need to know at minimum three things about that character: a physical trait, a personality trait, and a goal. This resource will help you consider your options carefully as you use these traits to make your characters memorable and compelling.

Written by Carey Compton.

Characters and Goals

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Characters should almost always have clear goals, even if these goals are not immediately made obvious to the reader. Without goals, characters lack motivation—that is, they have little reason to do anything interesting. For this reason, many writers connect the main character's goals to the main conflict in the story. This generally means that the main obstacle to those goals plays a key role in the plot as well (for instance, in the form of a villain). Often, the main character is most interesting and when confronting his own shortcomings in pursuit of his goals.

There are a few ways to construct this character-plot connection:

The character-first approach constructs a story’s plot for a character that already exists. This approach asks a writer to build a character that they find interesting and then assemble the plot around her. For example, a character who is struggling to overcome a phobia might, as a plot element, come into contact with the thing she fears. Success in this instance would mean that she doesn’t let the fear overcome her.

The plot-first approach starts by defining the major conflicts the writer wants to include in a piece of fiction and then builds a character who will be motivated by those conflicts. For example, a writer could decide to explore the effect of a catastrophic storm on a city before writing a main character. A character that would feel motivated by this conflict would be one with a connection to the city or to someone living in the city. Therefore, the son of someone who went missing in the storm would likely be a good focal character for this story.

Small Goals and Big Goals

Though it’s important for characters to have at least one big goal, it can be boring for the reader if a character is totally preoccupied with a single motivation. Strong characters generally have two or more goals of varying sizes that they might confront separately or at the same time.

Take the movie Zombieland , for example. The character Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) pursues both a personal goal (small) and a story goal (big). Throughout the film, the audience watches as Tallahassee fights his way through zombie-riddled supermarkets and ransacks crashed delivery trucks in search of his favorite treat—Twinkies. While it is obvious from the get-go that his explicit personal goal is to track down his favorite snack cake during the apocalypse, the audience gradually learns enough about the character to realize that the Twinkie hunting is merely a pretext for Tallahassee to pursue a more serious story goal. Tallahassee's goofy exterior conceals an inner longing to rid the world of as many zombies as possible as payback for the death of his young son. Because the viewer naturally comes to expect that both goals will be resolved by the end of the movie, Talahassee's character gains dramatic tension as his goals are revealed. In other words, the audience excitedly anticipates his success or failure.

Tallahassee resolves his story goal by successfully  protecting two of his new companions from a zombie onslaught, realizing as he does so that he has found a new family (as imperfect as it might be). The resolution of Tallahassee’s personal goal connects to this story goal as well. As Tallahassee searches a restaurant for Twinkies during the final confrontation, he discovers that his bullets have ruined an entire box of his beloved snack cakes. He experiences a moment of sadness at realizing his failure before one of his companions offers him a Twinkie she found, resolving his personal goal while reinforcing his story goal. Though Tallahassee doesn't get nearly as many Twinkies as he would have liked, he comes to realize that the desserts are merely cheap substitutions for things that are far sweeter: the kindness and generosity one receives from family.

Character and Believability

Another factor that can contribute to a successful character is an element called “verisimilitude,” also called “believability.” When writers talk about believability, they talk about whether the constituent parts of a character make sense and feel cohesive. For example, we might expect a character who gets paid minimum wage to struggle to pay her bills, so if we see her driving an expensive car or spending several hundred dollars on a meal at a fancy restaurant, we would question these details. There are, of course, stories in which these situations could exist, but the reader would need to know what allowed them to happen (inheritance from a late relative, perhaps, or an irresponsible approach to personal debt).

Stories that take place outside of a realistic modern setting will generally require some extra work on the part of the writer to make them believable. This is becaus of an idea called “suspension of disbelief.” This refers to the tendency of readers to challenge details of a story that seem out-of-place, but not to question those details if they are presented with enough contextual justification. If a story contains people who can fly with human-size wings, for instance, the reader would need to learn early on that this is a normal event that occurs in the story world. A reader who unexpectedly encounters flying humans three-fourths of the way into a short story could easily be baffled by this development, and might also consider it a cheap cop-out if it's used to resolve a plot conflict.

Adding Physical Detail

In addition to planning your characters thoughtfully, you must also sketch them coherently on the page. Careful selection of physical and environmental details will make some of your character’s traits visible to your reader without you having to tell them outright what you mean. A character who is disorganized might have wrinkled clothing or might consistently arrive late to appointments. An introverted character might bring a book or notebook everywhere they go and might also stay out of crowded spaces (or feel uncomfortable in those spaces).

It’s important to be aware of the other meanings that a detail can bring into a piece. A physical detail, especially one that appears multiple times within a work, might also develop symbolic meanings in addition to its literal meaning. An example of this can be found in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. Harry is well-known in the wizarding world because of a prominent scar on his forehead, which resulted from a violent magical encounter that also claimed the lives of his parents. The scar becomes a symbol of Harry’s past—not only of his parents’ sacrifice, but also of the evil that he encounters in each book in the series — and Rowling is able to draw the reader’s attention to these ideas without always referencing them directly by simply mentioning the scar in her descriptions of Harry’s feelings.

Exercise: In a short vignette, and using only physical details (e.g., characters' clothing, appearance, or body language), make it clear to a reader that a character is experiencing one of the following conditions: worry, hunger, grief, joy, confusion, lack of sleep, anxiety, homesickness. The word you chose should not appear in your vignette, nor should any synonyms.

Adding Personality

Broadly, “personality” refers to the collection of beliefs, thought patterns, and other mental qualities that dictate a character’s actions. A personality trait could be the character’s bubbly disposition, their self-deprecating humor, or the fact that they’re always nervous. When constructing a character, it’s important to think about how she would react in a number of situations. Here are some questions to help you discover your character’s personality traits:

  • Is he fond of attention, or does he avoid it?
  • Is she curious to learn more about a topic/location/person, or does she keep to herself?
  • How big of a role does fear play in his day-to-day activities?
  • How does this character react if things don’t go the way she wants them to?
  • Does he think that he’s more intelligent/less intelligent than others around him?
  • Does she think she’s average? How would she define “average?”
  • How does he feel about making decisions?
  • Does she make decisions quickly or slowly?
  • Does he tend to regret decisions they’ve made?

See also our "Brief Introduction" to characters , which contains additional questions to spark your creativity as you write a character.

It’s helpful to connect these traits to elements from the character’s life or past. For example, a character who grew up with a controlling parent might have difficulty making decisions once they start living on their own. Personality traits might also overlap with physical traits: talking too loudly or too softly or interrupting others, for example.

It’s also important to make sure that your characters aren’t good at everything they come across. Doing so will reduce your story’s believability because — let’s face it—no one is good at everything. To this end, you should allow your characters to fail at something, whether that something is huge or inconsequential.

Exercise: In a short vignette, deliver some news to your character. The news can be good or bad. It can affect just the character, or the entire world population, or any number of people in between. How does this character react? Who do they tell, if anyone? How do they interact with the space they’re in (e.g. punch a wall, hug a stranger)? Try this exercise several times with the same character but different contexts (e.g., the character receiving the news alone versus receiving it in a public place) to see how they react under different circumstances.

A Word of Caution on Using Fictionalized Versions of Real People

It’s common for writers to borrow details from real life—the shape of a stranger’s chin, a classmate’s clicking of their pen during a quiet exam, or the restaurant server’s shrill laugh, to give just a few examples—but a writer should be wary of recreating an entire person on the page. There are legal reasons not to do this, of course, but there is also the danger that a story filled with too many real-life people and events will be flat and boring. Fiction should generally be a healthy mix of the ordinary and extraordinary. If the mix is skewed too far in one direction, the reader can find the piece too unbelievable or too boring.

How to create vivid characters for your novel or screenplay

Character profile for a novel

Follow this step-by-step guide to learn the modern process of developing fictional characters in Milanote, a free tool used by top creatives.

How to create a character in 8 easy steps

One of the most integral parts of any story is crafting relatable and vivid characters. As writer Ernest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

The character profile is a popular technique for developing genuine personas for your story. Depending on the project or person, some stories are born out of a character, while others begin with a plot that in turn shapes the characters. A detailed character profile will help to shape a narrative as well as provide a handy reference point for their personality traits, backstory, goals, flaws, and challenges.

Whether you’re developing a character for your novel, screenplay, video game , or comic, this guide will take you through every step to bring them to life.

1. Start with a character archetype

A character might start as a bundle of random ideas, traits and plot points from a story outline, so it’s important to bring everything together in one place. A character archetype can help narrow your focus. There are twelve common archetypes or personas that we recognize across literature, mythology, and the human experience: The Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Outlaw, Explorer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Lover, Caregiver, Jester, and Sage.

Archetypes provide guidelines for behaviors, emotions, and actions. For example, the Explorer is naturally curious, restless, and driven to push boundaries, such as detective Sherlock Holmes or Huckleberry Finn. Experiment with your archetype—layer characteristics or even transform them from one to another as the storyline progresses.

Photo of a character for a novel

Create a new board for your character profile.

Create a new board

Drag a board out from the toolbar. Give it a name, then double click to open it.

Add an image to represent your character.

Upload a file or document  

Click the "Upload file" button or just drag a file onto your board. You can add images, logos, documents, videos, audio, and much more.

2. Add specific characteristics

Once you've defined an initial archetype, you can begin to shape the character and make them original. Consider the emotional connection between your audience and your character, and work towards the desired outcome. You may find that switching the age and gender of a character can lead to very different responses from your reader. Here are a few other examples you could use to create a unique character:

  • Adventurous and thrill-seeking
  • Absent-minded and often lost in thought
  • Compassionate and empathetic
  • Obsessed with solving crossword puzzles or riddles
  • Intelligent and analytical
  • Witty and sarcastic
  • Ambitious and driven
  • Introverted and introspective
  • Charismatic and charming
  • Meticulous and detail-oriented

Writers character profile guide step02

Add a note to describe their charactaristics.

Drag a note card onto your board

Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left-hand toolbar.

3. Build the backstory

Your character's backstory describes the journey they have taken up to this point. It allows you to explore their fears, weaknesses, and motivations and to define their purpose. You can explain the character's methods and evaluations—why they act the way that they do, the choices they make, and how it drives the individual forward. Are they making progress towards their goal, or making things worse?

To really round out the character, give them a personality that stretches beyond the story itself. Some aspects of their personality will not make it into the story but will help to inform the decisions that they make. Here are a few areas to consider when crafting an interesting backstory:

  • Childhood and family dynamics
  • Traumatic or impactful events
  • Educational background and achievements
  • Obstacles, challenges, or setbacks
  • Secrets, hidden aspects, or unresolved issues
  • Relationships with friends, partners, or mentors
  • Goals, aspirations, and dreams
  • Hobbies, interests, or talents
  • Values, morals, and ethical code

Adding a backstory to a character profile

Add a note to describe their backstory.

4. Give them quirks, faults, and flaws

Your character should come from an authentic place. That means that the character probably has some contradictions that make them a little out of the ordinary. If a character is too simplistic, it can feel cliched. Character flaws such as overconfidence, impatience, or recklessness can add new dimensions to a hero and make them feel more relatable. Here are a few other examples to consider:

  • Obsessive-compulsive tendencies (arranging things symmetrically, fear of germs)
  • Chronic lateness or forgetfulness
  • Collects unusual items (rubber ducks, vintage keychains)
  • Impulsive decision-making without considering consequences
  • Has a habit of telling elaborate and overly complicated stories
  • Overly critical or judgmental of others
  • Quick to anger or easily provoked
  • Overly trusting or easily manipulated by others

Adding quirks and flaws to a character profile

Add a note to describe their quirks and flaws.

5. Give your character an arc

A believable character grows and changes as your story evolves. Just like real people, they adapt and respond to life's events.

Consider where your character starts out and how they change alongside developments in the story. How do they overcome their initial obstacles? For example, do they learn new skills, gain a fresh perspective or make new relationships that lead to their success?

A character arc

Add notes to describe the change in your character.

Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left hand toolbar.

6. Add visual references

Even if you're writing a novel, visual references and inspiration can help bring your character to life. There are lots of fantastic sites where you can find great visual inspiration for free, like Pinterest or Google Images . You can also create a character moodboard at this stage to help explore all aspects of their appearance. See our guide on creating moodboards for a novel to learn more.

Visual references in a character profile

Use the built-in image library.

Use the built-in image library

Search over 500,000 beautiful photos powered by Unsplash then drag images straight onto your board.

Add image files to your board.

Click the "Upload file" button or just drag a file onto your board. You can add images, logos, documents, videos, audio and much more.

7. Organise & refine

Once you have everything you need, it's time to organize your content into logical topics. There's no right or wrong way to do this. The goal is to make your character profile easy to scan and reference as you're writing the story.

Character profile for a novel

Use Columns to group related content

Drag a column onto your board

Name it, then drag any relevant notes or images into your column

8. Create the rest of your characters

It's important not to fall into the trap of giving just one character too much responsibility for the drama in your story. Work on additional characters that compliment and contrast the traits of your main character. You can repeat the above process to develop a whole cast of characters that help bring your novel to life. Creating a character relationship map can be a great way to visualize their relationships (good or bad).

Map of characters in a novel

Use the Character Relationship Map template

You're done!

Now that you've created a unique fictional character, you have a great reference to use while writing your story. Use the template below to start inventing your character or read our full guide on how to plan a novel .

brett warren

Create your character

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Guides • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Dec 07, 2023

Character Development: Creating Unique Characters [+Template]

This post is written by author, editor, and ghostwriter Tom Bromley. He is the instructor of Reedsy's 101-day course,  How to Write a Novel .

In literature, character development is the process of building three-dimensional characters with personality, backstory, goals, and strengths and weaknesses to fill out a story. Done correctly, it will create a clear character arc for the protagonist in the novel.

All authors need to pay close attention to character development for their novel to resonate with readers. Even if you’re writing an action-packed, plot-driven book where the characters are robots, it’s the human element that will resonate with readers.

PqKxLx3As28 Video Thumb

This article will show you how to develop a character who will linger in your readers’ minds long after they turn the last page. To write such a character, you'll need to:

  • Establish the character's story goal and motivation
  • Make sure the character has both strengths  and flaws
  • Give the character an external and internal conflict
  • Decide whether the character is static or dynamic
  • Give the character a backstory
  • Develop the character's external characteristics to make them distinguishable
  • Make the character stand out with distinctive mannerisms
  • Make your character believable
  • Steer clear of the biggest character development mistake

By the end of this process, you should emerge with a fully realized,  multidimensional character . And don't worry — to help you build each of these elements, you can download our character development template for free.

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Let's start with internal character development. You can think of internal character development as a concentric circle, radiating outward from your character’s fundamental goals and motivations. All the other characterization choices you make, from their backstory to how much they change over time, will flow from these two core elements.

1. Establish the character’s story goals and motivations

Your character’s current goal is  why the story exists  — and why it’s worth telling. It’s what your character wants from the book’s plot, and what will propel their inner journey. Without it, the overall  narrative arc  would fall totally flat.

Let’s look at a few character goal examples:

  • Harry Potter’s goal is to defeat Lord Voldemort
  • Bilbo’s goal is to help the dwarves reclaim the kingdom of Erebor
  • Hamlet’s goal is to avenge his murdered father

Harry Potter and Voldemort staring hard at each other, still from the movies

Then there are the  motivations  behind your character’s goal, the 'in order to' that gives it meaning. What internal and external influences drive their desires? There can, of course, but more than one. For instance:

  • Harry Potter’s goal is to defeat Voldemort... in order to ensure the safety of wizarding world — and to find closure from the murder of his parents.
  • Bilbo’s goal is to help the dwarves reclaim the kingdom of Erebor... in order to bring some adventure to his life of creature comforts — and to impart his sense of home and belonging to those without a home.
  • Hamlet’s goal is to avenge his murdered father... in order to prove he's not imagining the ghost who haunts him — and to demonstrate that he's capable of acting decisively.

If you’re struggling to nail down your character’s goal, try asking, “What would make the character feel happy or satisfied with their life?” This is their motivation. Next, ask yourself, “What could they do to obtain that happiness?” This is their goal.

Now, if you’re struggling to get to the crux of your character’s motivations, try playing the “why” game. This will help you develop a multilayered chain of motivations:

If your character’s goal is to connect with their long-lost sibling, their motivation might be because they are an only child who always longed for a brother or sister. Why? Because they felt lonely as a child. Why? Because their parents moved around a lot and they had trouble keeping friends? Why? Because they eventually got tired of getting close to people, only to say goodbye.

By playing this game to its logical conclusion, we’ve learned that the character wants to meet their long-lost sibling [goal] because they feel it will establish a bond stronger than geography [motivation].

Develop characters by establishing goals and motivations. Ask yourself: What is their goal? What are their specific motivations? What are they willing to risk to achieve their goal? What would happen if they simply can’t achieve their goal?

2. Give the character an external and internal conflict

Your character only becomes interesting when you put a few obstacles between them and their goal. If Frodo walked up to Mount Doom, dropped the ring in the lava, and made it back in time for second breakfast, it wouldn’t make for a very compelling story  or a very memorable protagonist . It’s the  obstacles  — the army of orcs commanded by Sauron and the power the ring has over Frodo, to name a couple — that create conflict and tension in the story. That’s what makes it worth reading.

character development1

You'll notice in the example above that I mention two conflicts. One is Frodo vs. Sauron (character vs. character), and the second is Frodo vs. himself — his struggle to not lose himself to the ring. All characters should undergo an internal conflict that makes them question themselves and mirrors the external conflict they're facing. Even static characters who do not significantly alter over the course of the novel will face an internal conflict — you can find Sherlock vs. self, for example, in his fraught attempts to communicate with people. 

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There are  six primary types of conflict in fiction . While you are developing your character, you should decide which one(s) will make for the most worthy adversaries. The six types are Character versus...

Character. For example, Othello vs. Iago. Society. For example, Winston Smith vs. Big Brother in 1984 . Nature. For example, Robert Neville vs. the virus in I Am Legend . Technology. Victor Frankenstein vs. Frankenstein’s monster. Supernatural. Jack Torrance vs. The Overlook in The Shining . Self. Every compelling protagonist faces some conflict of the self, but a few examples include Jason Bourne vs. his own past, Harry Goldfarb vs. addiction in Requiem for a Dream , and Bridget Jones vs. self-doubt.

Develop characters through conflict. Ask yourself: What internal conflict will your protagonist face? Will they also face an external conflict? How will the internal and external mirror each other? How will the conflict(s) affect the characters’ pursuit of their goals?

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3. Make sure the character has strengths and flaws

All the intrigue in your story will stem from how your character responds to their external and internal conflicts. To face these challenges, every  type of character  will need both strengths to draw upon and flaws that threaten to drag them down.

The iconic characters we know and love tend to have a nuanced mix of positive and negative traits. Harry Potter, for instance, is brave and loyal. But he’s also stubborn and reckless, flaws that have put himself — and his friends — in danger. Frodo, meanwhile, is selfless enough to take on a thankless and dangerous mission. But he’s also highly dependent on the protection of his allies, and very vulnerable to the ring’s seductive pull.

To give your adoring fans something to root for, your character should be plausibly able to overcome the challenges the plot throws at them, whether that’s destroying the ring or saving the wizarding world. At the same time, you need to keep your readers on the edge of their seats. That’s why there should be a real risk that your character will fail — whether they fall prey to the ring’s power at the very edge of Mt. Doom, or die in a burst of green light from the Dark Lord’s wand. 

Writing a character with both strengths and flaws will help you maintain the tension in your plotting, but that’s not all it does. It’s also crucial to making your readers feel for the people at the heart of your story.

Your character’s strengths — whether that’s their sparkling wit, their skill at wind magic, or their unwavering moral center — will get readers to root for them, admire them, maybe even swoon over them. But don’t forget your character’s flaws: say, their recklessness, their greedy streak, the insecurity that makes them lash out at their more accomplished sibling. These very human weaknesses will make them  relatable .

Not sure which flaws to give your characters? Check out this list of 70 fascinating character flaws to hit upon the perfect combination!

4. Decide whether the character is static or dynamic

There's a myth that characters have to fundamentally change over the course of a story — in other words, be dynamic — in order to be considered well-written. But the truth is, there are a host of great characters who emerge from a long internal journey without changing very much at all. These are static characters, and they're an absolutely valid part of your character development repertoire.

Let's dig a little deeper into the idea of static characters versus dynamic characters.

Characters who don’t change because that’s just who they are Captain America, Captain Nemo, and Sherlock Holmes are a few examples of characters who do not significantly alter over the course of the novel. In the case of Sherlock, it is his unchanging nature that makes him a compelling character. Unlike many of us, he does not feel the need to adapt to his surroundings. For Sherlock, that's both a strength and a flaw: he is always true to himself, but he often fails to learn from his experiences. This is a “traditional” static character.

Characters who undergo substantial change A dynamic character is altered by the conflict(s) that they face. This might be a subconscious change, such as Jack adapting to the island in Lord of the Flies by becoming as wild, unconstrained, and “savage” as the nature around him. Or the change might be more of a conscious decision, such as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy overcoming their obstinate pride and prejudice for the sake of love. This is a "traditional" dynamic character.

Characters who don’t change in order to effect change in the world around them

Writers often rely on complex, fast-paced plots with lots of external conflict in order to compensate for static protagonists. The world around them may try to shift these protagonists from their core principles, but they will rebel in order to try and alter their circumstances. This kind of character is both a little bit static and a little bit dynamic: even though they might not change much themselves, they're the cause of major change. A great example of this kind of protagonist is Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games. You can  read about all about her unique characterization in our post on dynamic characters .

character development2

Reinforcing your protagonist through secondary characters Often times, authors write static secondary characters to act as pillars around which a dynamic character can develop. Think of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird : he changes little throughout the course of the novel. But it is his steadfast belief in justice that allows Scout to evolve from an innocent child into a girl with a strong sense of right and wrong.

You might want to consider writing a foil character : a character who contrasts with the protagonist in order to highlight particular qualities of the main character. For instance, Harry Potter’s foil is Draco Malfoy: privileged where Harry is scrappy, self-interested where Harry is recklessly selfless.

Develop characters by determining the shape of their arc . Ask yourself: How much will they change? What inspires their change? Do they change for the better? Do they change for the worse? Do they change the world and/or people around them?

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5. Give the character a past

Just as your history has contributed to the person you are today, your character's history has made them into the person we see on the page. You should develop your character’s past as much as possible, but it’s especially important to create and zero in on memories that inform exactly what we see in the story.

Develop characters through their history. Ask yourself: What moments from their past have played a pivotal role in who they are now? Do they have any suppressed memories? What are some of their happiest memories?

6. Develop the character's physical characteristics

Yes, the internal goals and motivations are the "heart" of a character. But that doesn't mean that their external characteristics should just be an afterthought. Sure, the fact that your protagonist has blonde hair may not impact the plot — but it might color how other characters respond to them. And it can only benefit you, as the author, to have a detailed image of them in your mind as you write your story.

Early in your character development, put a bit of time into sketching out your protagonist's physical features, including their...

  • Appearance: What do they look like? Does their appearance play a role in the story?
  • Voice: What do they sound like? Do they speak with an accent, or an unusual cadence? Does their voice appear to “match” their appearance?

To help give yourself a more holistic image of your character, I recommend checking out our ready-made  character profile template . It will prompt you to define external elements like posture and distinguishing features, in addition to internal elements like their relationship with their mother and how they want to be remembered after they die.

Want to see how the greats build their characters' dialogue? Check out 15 passages of great dialogue, analyzed .

7. Make the character stand out with distinctive mannerisms

Figuring out your character’s external traits doesn’t stop at deciding on an eye color and a voice type. To make your brown-eyed alto stand out from all the  other  brown-eyed altos in the literary canon, you’ll want to round out that physical profile with some  distinctive mannerisms . After all, a character’s physicality takes so much more than describing their body in isolation. It’s about how they move through space — and about how they interact with everything around them, from objects to other characters.

You’ll want to reflect on how your character responds to the world around them, including their….

  • Communication style: How do they interact with others, and how does that shape their relationships? Does their speech have any idiosyncrasies or quirks ?
  • Gait: How do they make their way around their environment, and how does this impact how they’re treated? Do crowds unconsciously gather to watch their fluid, graceful strides, or do others give them a wide berth because their heavy tread is intimidating?
  • Tics: What do they do when they’re nervous, uncertain of how to proceed, or about to collapse from exhaustion?

Some character mannerisms will be situationally dependent, coming out only when they’re acting under the compulsion of some strong emotion. Harry Potter, for example, understandably rubs his forehead when his scar hurts. Similarly, Nynaeve from the Wheel of Time series tends to tug on her braid when she's agitated, and James Bond villain Le Chiffre, from Casino Royale, puts his finger to his temple when he lies or bluffs.

James Bond villain Le Chiffre's character development includes a nervous tic

Other mannerisms, however, are part of a character’s default state — as essential to our view of them as their coloring. Just think of Draco Malfoy’s permanent sneer: it’s as much a part of him as his pale blond hair.

To make your character truly memorable, you’ll want to consider adding both these types of mannerisms to their behavioral repertoire. Anger shouldn’t look the same on everyone: someone might flare up like an inferno, going red in the face, while others turn icily polite, smiling insincerely. 

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8. Do your research to make the character believable

When it comes to character development, empathy and imagination will take you far. After all, you can’t expect your readers to get into your protagonist’s head if you’re not able to think your way there.

But say you want to craft characters so lifelike they seem more flesh than sentence, capable of walking right out of the pages and moving around without the puppet-strings of your plot tugging on their limbs. Then you’ll want to go beyond the limits of your mind, and do some character research.

Character research comes into play when you’re writing about an aspect of your character that you don’t know much about off the top of your head. For instance, say you’re writing a British character when you’ve never set foot outside of Florida. You’ll want to do a bit of research when you’re scripting his dialogue .

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You absolutely don’t want to pepper your British character’s speech with American regionalisms. But you also don’t want to him sound like the wrong sort of Brit — he shouldn’t talk like a posh Oxonian if he’s supposed to be a working class guy from Croydon. Your character’s dialogue has to fit the background you’ve given him, and that requires some research.

Now, how do you go about that? Luckily, character research doesn’t have to feel like you’re cranking out a paper for school — it can be a lot more experiential. You can Google “croydon slang” and read the articles that come up, or hit up your library for some books on linguistic ethnography. But you could also watch some British-made TV set in your character’s hometown. You could even find some YouTubers from the area.

Note that research is especially important if you’re writing a character whose identity or experiences differ substantially from your own — say, someone from a different ethnic background, or someone with a mental illness you’ve only read about.

In that case, your research should start with reading. In addition to looking at the facts — whether that’s an article on Chicano culture, or a clinical description of depression symptoms — consider seeking out some memoirs and personal essays by writers in the relevant demographic. In addition, you might consider engaging the services of a  sensitivity reader . Think of them as research assistants, committed to making your character development as authentic and nuanced as possible. 

9. Steer clear of the biggest character development mistake

By now, you’ll have built up a character from the inside out, moving from the goals and motivations that define their role in the story to the mannerisms that make them stand out from the crowd. 

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to giving your story an unforgettable human element. But your job isn’t over just yet. Now, you have to make sure you aren’t making the biggest character development mistake of all: making your character too perfect.

I talked about giving strength and flaws before, so you might think you’re covered. “My character is a heroic warrior who earns the well-deserved respect of her community, but I made sure she has some weaknesses, too!” 

You might very well be in the clear. But the key now is to make sure that your character’s strengths and flaws are well-balanced. You don’t need to counter every positive characteristic with an equal and opposite weak point. But you do want to make sure your character has some flaws that are just as consequential as their strengths.

fUxxizemjZc Video Thumb

Say your protagonist is a gorgeous, violet-eyed sylph with a heart of gold, who fights like Mike Tyson and writes like Mark Twain… but she sings like a squawking parrot and once got a B- in math. Sure, her tone deafness and mathematical ineptitude are technically flaws. But all in all, they’re pretty inconsequential.

If your character has only a couple of minor weaknesses to balance out their tremendous strengths, they’ll still read as unrealistically perfect. Watching them dazzle their way through your story will have your readers rolling their eyes — or even worse, suspecting you wrote them as a wish fulfillment exercise.

So make sure your character has some meatier flaws, the kind of vulnerabilities that will actually play a role in her character arc. Maybe your violet-eyed heroine is brave and strong, but she tends to panic when the stakes are high, making tactical mistakes that can cost her dearly. Maybe she’s so hung up on a prophecy she’s supposed to fulfill that she has trouble thinking for herself. Maybe her tendency to be suspicious of everyone, so she has a hard time winning allies. 

Once you’ve made sure your character is human as well as heroic, you’re well on your way to nailing character development. When those details are hammered down, put your knowledge of your protagonist to the test with these eight character development exercises , or request advice from a character feedback group such as CharacterHub . Before you know it, you’ll have acquired a new close friend (or mortal enemy) — even if they are imaginary.

Do you have your own tips for character development? Or any favorite characters from books you feel leap off the page? Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments below!

2 responses

Diane says:

07/06/2018 – 09:01

Indeed Indeed Indeed. Brilliant article. Everything is simple and difficult in the same time. But with this tips it is easier to create your full tutoriage character.

16/04/2020 – 19:50

clearly the writers of star wars episodes 7, 8, and 9 never read this article.

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The Ultimate Character Development Template

Unique characters drive compelling stories. Develop yours with our free template.

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  3. Character Writing

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    characters and creative writing

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    characters and creative writing

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    characters and creative writing

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  1. Characters: A Brief Introduction - Purdue OWL® - Purdue ...

    Characters: A Brief Introduction A Brief Introduction to Writing Characters in Fiction As you begin writing a work of fiction—whether it be a short story or a novel, though you may not know yet what shape your piece will take—you might think of yourself as a director of a play.

  2. Character Writing: Complete Guide to Creating Your Cast - NN

    To develop characters to cast your story, it helps to understand what is: Character A figure in a book, play, film or video game or other media. They may be human (e.g. Anna Karenina), animal (e.g. Beatrix Potter), hybrid, alien, or an anthropomorphic object (e.g. Mr Potato Head in Toy Story ).

  3. How to Develop Fictional Characters: 8 Tips for Character ...

    1. Establish a character’s motivations and goals. Think of Harry Potter’s quest to defeat Lord Voldemort, fueled by his parents’ murders. Great characters are driven by a deep-seated motivation and have a goal they are trying to reach. This creates interesting characters and also creates a story arc.

  4. How to Develop a Fictional Character: 6 Tips for Writing ...

    In fiction writing, character development is the process of building a unique, three-dimensional character with depth, personality, and clear motivations. Character development can also refer to the changes a character undergoes over the course of a story as a result of their actions and experiences. Why Is Character Development Important?

  5. Writing Compelling Characters - Purdue OWL® - Purdue University

    Purdue OWL Subject-Specific Writing Creative Writing Characters and Fiction Writing Writing Compelling Characters Writing Compelling Characters Characters and Goals “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut

  6. How to Create Interesting Characters: 2023 Step-By-Step Guide

    There are twelve common archetypes or personas that we recognize across literature, mythology, and the human experience: The Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Outlaw, Explorer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Lover, Caregiver, Jester, and Sage. Archetypes provide guidelines for behaviors, emotions, and actions.

  7. Character Development: Creating Unique Characters [+Template]

    1. Establish the character’s story goals and motivations Your character’s current goal is why the story exists — and why it’s worth telling. It’s what your character wants from the book’s plot, and what will propel their inner journey. Without it, the overall narrative arc would fall totally flat. Let’s look at a few character goal examples:

  8. 33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters — Well-Storied.

    33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters — Well-Storied. No matter how much tension you pack into the pages of your book, readers won’t care about your story if they don’t first care about your characters. After all, there’s nothing page-turning about a predictable protagonist playing out a predictable plot.