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, you’ll get a character building checklist that’ll help you create your own cast of characters people will care about.
So, how do you develop characters out of thin air? The answer is that it takes time and effort, just like anything else. You’ll need to be imaginative, but ultimately, you have to design well-rounded, flawed individuals that keep your reader interested. For that, you need to envision them as real people and figure out what makes them tick.
I’ve designed a character checklist that I find gives me a helpful start when first imagining my characters. You can download or save a copy from this post to help you get started with your own character development. If you do, I’d love it if you could give this post a share.
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, they’re so stereotypically good or evil that they’re just boring.
Real characters need to have rough edges. They need flaws as well as heroism because to really cut through, they need to feel like real people.
If your reader can relate to a character, they can put themselves in their shoes. That’s what you want for your story. You want your readers to immerse themself deeply in the characters you create. To do that, you need to make them relatable.
Consider the psychology of people you know and explore the psychologies of those you don’t. That kind of research can help you understand more about how different kinds of human personalities work.
Questions to ask when building a character
I’ve always found it useful to design documents for each of my characters. I envisage them as being real people that I’m interviewing for a job. They need to impress me to make it into my story, so I try and dig deep for as much information as possible.
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 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 the left eyelid, birthmark on the 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 additional 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.
If you’ve found this post helpful, please give it a pin on Pinterest or share it. Let me know in the comments any questions you have about building and developing characters too.