Wednesday Writing Workout: Character Building

We all struggle with making our characters seem believable. It can be really annoying as a reader too, when you read something about a character that doesn’t add up. I mean there are hundreds of forums online that track character development of popular fictional characters such as Harry Potter. Fans take every detail in the books to produce in-depth character reports. But you, as a writer can work backwards and create a character that is well rounded.

It takes a lot of practice and you have to live with the character for a long time before the character really seems real. Or, you can answer and fill in the below questions about your charecter:

Primary Characteristics

Birth Date:
Birth Name: (What name did your character’s parents give them at birth?)
Birth Place:
Manner of Birth: (How did their birth happen? Were they an accident? Did they kill their mother upon birth? Did they come out upside-down?)
First Word(s):
Death Date: (Leave this blank if you don’t know when they will die. You can always fill it in later.)
Age at Death:
Death Place:
Manner of Death: (How did your character die?)
Last Words:  

What is your character’s main goal? This should be the thing that drives their part of the plot.
What other goals does your character intend to achieve? These should drive subplots, which are also very important to a story
What does your character put before all other things in their life?
What motivates your character to do the things they do?
What has your character accomplished already?
What has your character already accomplished that they are most proud of?
What has your character failed at in the past?
What does your character consider their biggest failure?
How much confidence doe your character have in themself?
What past occurrences negatively affect your character in the present?
What present occurrences negatively affect your character?
What kinds of things is your character embarrassed about? These can be internal, such as a birthmark, or external, such as their friends’ behaviors.
Instigators: (What might cause your character to be reminded of traumas, afflictions, worries, etc.?)

Earliest Memory:
Fondest Memory:
Worst Memory:
Favorite Dream:
Worst Nightmare:

Desires: i.e. What does your character want that they know they could possibly have?
Wishes: i.e What might your character want that they know probably isn’t going to happen or is impossible?
Regrets: i.e What has your character done that they wish they could take back?
Secrets: i.e What does your character know that must not be told to anyone?
Confidantes: i.e Who or what does your character feel safe sharing their secrets with?
Soft Spots: i.e What kinds of things does your character go out of their way to help?
Cruel Streaks: i.e What kinds of things does your character go out of their way to assault?


Musical Instrument:


Mental Characteristics

Known Languages:
What is your character obsessed with?
How well do they remember things?
What is your character afraid of?
What are they very familiar with and/or very good at doing?
What are they simply unable to understand?
What activity or interest does your character pursue simply for pleasure?
What kind of things just get your character’s nerves?


Intellectual Characteristics

How well can your character use reason and logic in their thinking?
How well can your character create an image in their mind?
How good is your character with words, written and spoken?
How well does your character control their body motions, how well do they handle objects? How clear is their sense of goal of physical action?
How clear is your character’s perception to sounds, music, tones, and rhythms?
How well does your character interact with and understand others?
How well does your character understand their self?
How well does your character understand their natural surroundings?
How well can your character understand phenomena or questions beyond sensory data?


Philosophical Characteristics

What divides your character’s definition of good and bad?
What actions does your character use to demonstrate their morality?
How does your character act most of the time?
How does your character see life? Dismal? Happy? Boring?
How do they perceive their situations? Optimistically? Pessimistically? Sadistically? Masochistically? Ideally? Realistically? You might answer by having them tell whether ‘the glass is half empty or half full’, and each of these perceptions should give a different answer.
How do they tend to see the world? From a conqueror’s standpoint? From a student’s standpoint? From a flea’s standpoint? It doesn’t necessarily have to correspond with their occupation.
What phrase might they use to sum up the world? Think “Hakuna Matata” or “All is well that ends well”
Political Party:
What would your character personally never do?


Spiritual Characteristics

What animal might best describe your character?
How enthusiastically does your character follow their religion?
What superstitions does your character subscribe to?
Does your character exhibit Chastity, Charity, Temperance, Diligence, Humility, Kindness, Patience, or Justice? Only the 8 listed should be used, but more than one can be used.
Does your character exhibit Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Pride, Envy, Wrath, or Despair? Only the 8 listed should be used, and only the ones whose opposites are not listed above should be used.


Additional questions:

Favorite Actor:
Favorite Animal:
Favorite Arts:
Favorite Band:
Favorite Book:
Favorite Color:
Favorite Country:
Favorite Drink:
Favorite Excuse:
Favorite Food:
Favorite Flavor:
Favorite Movie:
Favorite Musical Genre:
Favorite Mythical Creature:
Favorite Number:
Favorite Pastime:
Favorite Quote:
Favorite Restaurant:
Favorite Season:
Favorite Song:
Favorite Store:
Favorite Story Genre:
Favorite Subject:
Favorite TV Show:
Favorite Words:


Social Characteristics

How does your character communicate with other people?
What has your character done to break the law? Arson? Murder? Jaywalking?
What kind of stuff or people does your character discriminate against? Blacks? Aliens? Broccoli?
How firmly does your character stand their ground over others? Extra firm? Submissively? Iron-fistedly?
How downright amazing does your character think they are? Ridiculously centric? In the wrong place? Superfluous?
How much emotional inflictions can your character take before they break? Lots? None at all? Negative amounts?
How does your character express themself? Through the clothes? By just saying it? By the pattern in which they play the harmonica?
What does your character think is funny? Blond jokes? Death? Farting?
How energetic is your character? Do they literally bounce off the walls? Do they do only what they have to do? Do they literally sleep for entire days?
How does your character commonly act? Rude? Well-mannered? Creepy?
How long can your character wait for something or endure something that is annoying or stressful? Very patient? Impatient? Passive?
How is your character viewed by their peers? Are they held in high esteem? Do they think he’s pure stupid? Do they think he’s an alien?
How much does your character like to interact with other people? Is he super social? Is he a loner? Does he only like being around people who take a liking to the research behind the flight pattern of the sparrow?
What is their social status? Quiet? Popular? Dead?
How does your character act and dress? Gothic? Emo? Spocky?


This is not an exhaustive list – there are many lists online and you can keep just adding questions. The point, remember, is to know your characters as if they were people.

Afshan D'souza-Lodhi
Afshan D'souza-Lodhi is a poet and playwright based in Manchester. As well as her own writing Afshan is keen to develop other younger and emerging artists. You can find her fighting against police brutality and injustice alongside the Northern Police Monitoring Project.

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