A Handful of Questions to Ask Yourself While Creating a Character
Compelling characters make compelling stories. Here’s a bunch of questions you can ask yourself while developing a character.
1) What does your character want from life? What is their motivation? What drives them? Most people want things - it could be as small as wanting a sandwich, or something huge like wanting to change the world. Does your character want something? Does your character dream? What about? And if they don’t, why don’t they?
2) Is your character shy? Outgoing? Insecure? Proud? Why are they the way they are? My favourite example of this question answered well is Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. He’s insecure because he doesn’t come from a wealthy family, has a bunch of older brothers who are all amazing in some form or way, his mother always wanted a daughter, Ginny, and so he doesn’t feel as wanted. Also, one of his best friends is the Chosen One, and the other is the brightest witch of her age - a cocktail that would make anyone doubt themselves.
3) What kind of clothes does your character wear? Why? The way you dress says a lot about who you are. For instance, If a character wears designer clothes and the latest fashions, it shows that they have the means to keep up with the trends. However if they wear a medley of things bought second-hand, or buy cheap stuff from supermarkets, they might not have the money to spare on outfits, or maybe they just don’t care about fashion.
4) How does your character speak? Speech patterns have origins. An accent, language, a dialect, all signify geography, social class, personality. It could be as simple as cussing too much. But be sure you know why your character speaks the way they do. And if it’s not a speech pattern you’re familiar with, do your research!
5) Likes and dislikes I sometimes give characters specific likes (”I like tomatoes”) or specific dislikes (”I dislike eggs”), simply because it humanises them. You don’t have to do this, or be as specific as that, if it doesn’t serve your story. But it’s definitely something you can consider. Everyone has those little things they love and hate, and you can go places with them. (”I hate eggs because my childhood bully threw an egg at me and scarred me for life.”) Be creative and have fun with it.
6) Who does your character love? Romantic attraction isn’t necessary to create a wholesome character. Nevertheless, if they are in love with someone, be sure to understand why they love someone. Love is at its best, a complicated emotion difficult to break down, but a relationship has to be believable. As a reader, I need to be able to look at a couple and think, yeah, I can see what their love is built on.
7) What would their favourite songs be? This is not so much a question as it is a trick I use to get a better feel for who my character is. No matter what time period your story is set in, you can use this to understand your character better. Take your playlist and pick what songs they would enjoy. It says a lot about who they are. For instance, one of my characters would enjoy Western classical music and nothing else. Another character listens to the worst kind of pop and loves it.
8) How does your character react under stress? Can they cope with it? Do they get tense? Angry? Teary? Why? Why not? How a person deals with stress is a vital part of their personality. Decisions taken under stress can be the worst you’ve ever made, or (depending on how you handle stress), can be effective solutions to problems. The way a person reacts to stress often has a lot to do with their background and upbringing. Example (this is a generalisation, of course): someone who comes from a difficult family background may have more extreme reactions to stress than someone who is well-adjusted and comes from a happy family.
9) What does your character do when they’re alone? You’re often a different person alone than when you are with other people. The pretences and false faces come away, and all the little thoughts you usually ignore now have time to play in the open. Who is your character when they’re alone? What do they do? What do they think about? Why do they think about/do things in that way?
10) Where does your character fail? Characters must have flaws to be compelling. Nobody is perfect, and your character shouldn’t be either. Whether its insecurity or anger, or a lack of initiative, or smaller things like not being a good artist, or not being the best at sports–we all have personal failings and we all have things we aren’t good at. Consider: where does your character mess up?
I hope this helps! Remember to have fun. Developing characters can be the most exciting thing. Keep an open mind while working. Happy writing!