Character building is one of the most enjoyable and important aspects of planning your novel, narrative or story. No matter the genre of writing, having well-developed, interesting characters is paramount. If your main players aren’t believable or engaging, then your reader will be bored by your story, no matter how exciting you think your plot is. In this post, I’m going to give you a character building checklist that you can use to help you create your own cast of characters people will care about.
So, how do you develop characters out of thin air? The answer to that is really that it takes time and effort, just like anything else. I’m no expert at it, but I’ve picked up a few tips and ideas about how to build characters that keep your reader interested. Feel free to download or save my checklist to help you get started with your own character development!
Why does character building matter?
Simply put, if you don’t care about your characters, why should your reader? There’s nothing worse than reading a novel where the protagonist is just a cardboard cut-out of a real person. That’s to say that they don’t seem to have fully developed personalities. Or worse, that they’re so stereotypically good or evil that they’re just plain boring. Real characters need to have rough edges, flaws as well as heroism; they need to feel like real people.
If your reader can relate to a character, they can put themselves in their shoes. And that’s what you want for your story! You want your reader to immerse themself in the characters you create, and to do that, you need to make them relatable.
Questions to ask when building a character
You want to make sure that you go through this process for all of your characters. That way, you’ll ensure that each of them is well-developed and doesn’t fall into tired tropes or stereotypes. For each one, create a separate document and go through some of these questions and thinking points to help you get started.
Other points to consider when building characters
It’s easy to become fixated on physical appearances when initially developing your characters. While it’s great to be able to picture them visually, what’s most important is their core personality traits. Once you’ve used the above questions and thinking points, it’s time to delve deeper into the varied aspects of your character’s personality.
Take some of the answers you create for the above questions and build on them. You can then turn them into short sentences you can use to create a longer-form biography. For example, in answering the question about ‘markings/scars’ – you could elaborate as follows:
- Markings/Scars – small scar under left eyelid, birthmark on right leg
- Jack has a large strawberry birthmark on his right leg, just above his kneecap. He’s had it since he was a child, and for some reason it’s always been something he resented his mother for. Despite it being nothing she could do anything about, deep down he’s always felt as though she contributed towards this visible disfigurement of his otherwise strong, athletic legs. Jack was also left with a small scar under his left eyelid after a game he played with his younger brother Marcus as a child went horribly wrong and he had to have emergency surgery.
Here, you’ve left yourself some scope to develop the backstory between ‘Jack’ and his mother and brother, as well as providing some insight into the type of person he might be to hold family-based grudges. It might be that you scrap this part of Jack’s character development altogether, but in doing this as an exercise, you’re giving your characters a bit more depth.
Hopefully, this checklist will give you a bit of a starting point! Feel free to download either of these character building idea sheets too, and let me know how you get on with your writing. You might also find this resource on worldbuilding helpful once you’ve had the time to work through some of your characters.
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