Character Development

10 May

For all the writers out there,

I have been having trouble with developing my characters and I know these things come with time but I have found that with me I do better with answering questions about the character instead of summaries, I found myself dreading writing summaries about my characters, and I didn’t know whether or not I was including the right information so I found a set of 100 questions to answer and i love it, I will post it below.

Peace and Love

Sarah.

Character Development Questions #1 – The Basics

These are the first questions you need to answer about your character – the stuff you probably need to know to get started.

  1. Name?
  2. Age?
  3. Approximate height?
  4. Approximate weight? (Hint: if you’re going to reference one or the other, having an appropriate height:weight ratio is important for a realistic character. A man of 6’4″ weighing 120 lbs/65 kg would be dangerously thin if they’re a normal human).
  5. Hair colour?
  6. Eye colour?
  7. Skin tone? (Especially important if it’s blue or something else unnatural).
  8. Do they speak with an accent? (Bonus: does that accent mean something about them?)
  9. Where are they from?
  10. Where are they now? (No need to get philosophical – a physical location will be fine for this one)

Character Development Questions #2 – Backstory

Developing a solid backstory for your characters is essential – even if you don’t put much or any of it in the narrative. The more you treat your character as though they are a real person, the more real they’ll become.

  1. Who are their parents? Biologically and socially. (Bonus: how was their relationship with them?)
  2. What is their earliest memory?
  3. What did they want to be when they grew up?
  4. What did/do their parents want them to be?
  5. Do they have siblings? Older or younger? Brothers or sisters?
  6. Do they have or have they ever had children? How many?
  7. Do they or have ever had a significant other? Are they still with them? Why? Why not?
  8. What were they doing right before the story starts?
  9. Up until now, what’s the most noteworthy thing they’ve done? To them? To the people around them? (Are they different things for different people?)
  10. What was their education like?

Character Development Questions #3 – Tastes

Your characters likes and dislikes – their tastes – is possibly the most overt part of ‘who they are’. People get to know other people’s tastes quickly and easily, and even an acquaintance can know that they always drink Pepsi over Coke when available, or other things like that.

  1. What’s your character’s favourite colour?
  2. Do they/would they choose to wear a scent? What would it be?
  3. Do they care about what things look like? All things, or only some?
  4. What’s their favourite ice cream flavour?
  5. Are they a tea, or coffee drinker? Or soft drinks, or do they drink a lot of alcohol? What kind? (Hint: be specific, and be wary of characters who don’t have preferences about basic things like this)
  6. What kind of books do they read? What TV shows and movies do they watch?
  7. What kind of music do they like? Do they like music at all?
  8. If they were about to die, what would they have as their last meal?
  9. Are they hedonistic? In all cases? Or does practicality sometimes/always/often win out?
  10. Do they have any philias or phobias? (Even if you don’t know what the technical term might be?)

Character Development Questions #4 – Morals, Beliefs, and Faith

A character’s moral code and beliefs can offer a lot of insights on their motives, and the likelihood of their taking a given course of action.

  1. Do they have an internal or an external moral code? (Internal would be a something that they’ve come up with for themselves, external would be something they’ve had handed to them. Many religious people will have an external moral code, for example. Samurai warriors, too.)
  2. To what extent are their actions dictated by this code?
  3. Do they believe in a God or Gods/Goddesses/Higher being of some description?
  4. Are they superstitious?
  5. Do they value faith/instinct more highly than reason?
  6. Do they believe in an afterlife? If so, what’s it like?
  7. Do they have any specific beliefs that manifest obviously? (Moral vegetarianism is a good example of this sort of thing).
  8. Are the respectful of the beliefs of others? To what extent?
  9. Have they ever had to stand up to criticism for being religious? Or not being religious?
  10. Would they be more likely to act for the good of the one, or the good of the many?

Character Development Questions #5 – Relationships

It would be difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to write a character who never interacted with anyone else. Modern thinking about writing style suggests that we should learn more about a character from the way other people react to them than by their actions alone. So, these questions about relationships will help to define the ways other people behave around your character.

  1. Do they make friends easily?
  2. Do they have a best friend?
  3. Can they get people to do what they want them to? If so, how?
  4. Do they have a lot of romantic relationships? Serious, or short term?
  5. Do they fall in and out of love easily?
  6. Do strangers and acquaintances actually like them when they meet?
  7. Do they have a network? (That is, a range of people they’re connected to without necessarily knowing)
  8. What is their relationship like with their family?
  9. Are they still in touch with non-family people they were in touch with a year ago? Five years? Ten? More?
  10. Do they like children? Do they want children of their own?

If You Haven’t Already – Go Take a Break

Try some of these techniques:

 

Do you ever wonder how other people spend so much time not doing things? Have you ever wanted to take up the subtle art of procrastination, but weren’t sure…

Character Development Questions #6 – Physical Appearance

Time to play dress up! I don’t know about you, but this is always one of my favourite parts.

  1. How does this character dress? How would they choose to dress, if all options were open to them?
  2. Do they have any tattoos? What do they mean?
  3. Do they have piercings? How many? Is this culturally appropriate for them?
  4. Do they have scars? Where did they come from?
  5. Do they alter their appearance in some way on a regular basis? (Make up, hair dye, that kind of thing)
  6. Is there something they’d choose to change about their appearance if they had the opportunity to?
  7. Is there something about their appearance they’re particularly proud of/happy with?
  8. Objectively, are they physically attractive? Fairly plain? Unattractive?
  9. Do they have an accurate mental picture and opinion of their physical appearance?
  10. How much time do they spend thinking about their physical appearance?

Character Development Questions #7 – General Knowledge

How well acquainted is your character with the world around them?

  1. Can they navigate their own local area without getting lost? To what degree? (For example, if they live in Paris, could they take you anywhere there without asking for directions?)
  2. Do they know who the top politician or monarch is where they live? What about elsewhere?
  3. Do they know if/where there are any major conflicts going on right now?
  4. Do they know the composition of water?
  5. Do they know how to eat a pomegranate? (Substitute any other tricky item of food on alien planets or other settings that would make this specialist knowledge)
  6. Are they good with the technology available to them? Average? Completely hopeless?
  7. Could they paint a house? Without making a mess of it?
  8. Could they bake a cake? Would you eat it if they did?
  9. Do they know how to perform basic maintenance on the common mode of transportation? (In a modern Earth context, can they change the oil and water in a car?)
  10. Do they know the price of a loaf of bread?

Character Development Questions #8 – Specific Knowledge

What about special skills? Stuff your character knows that other people are unlikely to?

  1. Do they have a specific qualification in a narrow area? (Think physics and plumbing)
  2. Is there something they do or know exceptionally well that most other people don’t?
  3. Do people often comment on a particular skill or area of knowledge to this character? Behind their back?
  4. Is there an area this character could be considered top of their field or a genius in?
  5. Have they deliberately sought to gain knowledge in a specific area? If so, why?
  6. Do they speak more than one language? More than two? Why?
  7. Does their cultural background effect what they would be expected to know?
  8. Have they ever been publicly acknowledged for being well-versed in something? (Think Nobel Prizes)
  9. Have they ever been bullied for knowing a lot about something?
  10. Do they actively seek new knowledge, or let it come to them naturally?

Character Development Questions #9 – ‘What if…’ Questions

These questions are designed to give you a different perspective on why certain things are important about your character – or why they’re not.

  1. What if they’d been born with a different biological sex?
  2. What if they’d have more or less siblings?
  3. What if a key formative event in their past had gone differently?
  4. What if they lost a limb? (Would which limb be important?)
  5. What if someone close to them died unexpectedly?
  6. What if they’d been born 50 years earlier? 100 years? 1000?
  7. What if they’d done something completely different on the morning when the story starts? (This is a good plot question, as well.)
  8. What if they found enough money to make them wealthy for the rest of their life in a bag?
  9. What if they were stranded and deserted?
  10. What if they were betrayed by someone they trusted?

Character Development Questions #10 – Miscellaney

These are just questions that any real person would likely be able to answer, but a ficitonal character often can’t.

  1. What did they have for breakfast this morning?
  2. What ridiculous belief/s did they have as a child? (Did they think the moon really was made of cheese?)
  3. Do they like marshmallows?
  4. Do they sleep on their side, front, or back?
  5. Do they work better with sound or silence?
  6. Do they have a strange obsession with something minor?
  7. Do they like art?
  8. How fast can they run?
  9. Do they prefer to sit on the floor or on a chair?
  10. What do they want, right now?

Question 101 – Why Should The Audience Care About Your Character?

This is the big one, isn’t it? What do you think makes your character interesting? Are we supposed to like them, or dislike them? Why? Do you think the answers you have now will produce a character that an audience will care about? Tell us!

 

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