Every character in our stories deserves the attention of a detailed background whether the lead or a minor personality. They have goals, ambitions, family, and other traits on top of what we normally think, such as eye color and height. Here is a list of the things I fill in for each of my characters. Some are more appropriate than others and I don’t do every single one for every single character. But I do enough to bring out that character’s personality.
In addition, I typically write anywhere from a paragraph to a full page on any given character before starting the story. This brings my mind up to date and helps cement that character before they ever speak a line of dialogue. My hope is that you’ll be able to use these ideas in breathing more life into your own.
- Name: Full name, Nickname
- Place of Origin: City, town, state, country
- Race: As applicable
- Age: In the time scale of your story (years, moons, etc)
- Sex: (Yes, No, and Sometimes are not the correct answers LOL)
- General Appearance: height, weight, eye color, haircut (and how the character feel about it)
- Distinguishing marks: What makes this character more easily recognized compared to the other characters in the story
- Voice: Is it squeaky, robust, deep, giggly, etc.
- Occupation: What they do for a living or for money
- Personal Habits: Dress, manners, etc.
- Motives: What drives this character to act the way they do
- Goals: What do they want (be very specific. World Peace is not a goal. Joining the Peace Corps to feed the hungry in Haiti is.
- Vulnerabilities: What will cause the character to break down emotionally or physically?
- Enneagram: As discussed in last week’s blog on personalities
- Likes: Long walks on the beach, sunsets, ponies, etc. LOL
- Passions: Name at least one thing the character feels strongly about and why
- Dislikes: Turn offs, things they just can’t stand to be around
- Quirks: Odd behavioral habits that are out of the norm for their society
- Background: Here I write 1 page for a main character and a paragraph or two for a minor character
- Attitude: Main outlook about people or events
- Self Perception: What does the character believe is their major flaw? What is their major strength?
- Other’s Perception: What does the character believe others think of them?
- Parental Influence: How does the character view their parents?
- Relationships: With love interests and/or other family members
- School Life: Is the character educated? Where? How was their performance? What is there attitude toward schooling in general?
- Free Time: Hobbies or personal passions that fill in disposable time
- Places I've been: Favorite vacation locations, or places this character has been (good or bad) that sets them apart from the rest of the cast
- Places I'd like to go: Here’s a chance to create some wish-lists for you character
- People I know: Has the character ever met a famous person? Do they have special connections that other characters might not?
- What do you really like about this character?
- What do you really hate?
- What do you plan to reveal about this character that no one else knows?
- What will be this characters epiphany in the story and how will it change them?
This is certainly not a comprehensive list. Add your own traits, ideas, questions, character thoughts, and anything else you think is appropriate. It’s a lot of work; I won’t lie about that. But it’s worth every moment when the characters leap of the page.
Keep on writing!!
Q4U: What other aspects of a character do you include when rounding them out?