Shelley Widhalm

Writing About Characters, Part II

In Character Development, Writing, Writing About Characters on June 21, 2015 at 11:00 am

A character just doesn’t fall out of the sky onto the page, so building a character’s identity takes some planning and analysis.

To give the point-of-view or main character depth, the character needs to be complex with background information, personality traits and ways of acting, behaving and responding to the world.

That depth can be explored with a character questionnaire that includes physical description, place of birth and hometown, family and upbringing, relationships such as friends and family, schooling, job history, preferences for living such as in an apartment or a single-family home, culture, religion, style of dress, hobbies, pastimes and favorites like books, movies and songs.

Here are some questions to ask to build the character’s identity:

  • What are the character’s personality traits and temperament? What does the character think about him or herself? Is the character confident or insecure? As for temperament, is the character an introvert or extrovert or more thinking or feeling?
  • How do the people around the character see him or her? How would they describe the character? Do they like or dislike the character, and why?
  • What is the character’s emotional makeup? Does the character keep it together or react when situations don’t go the way the character wants them to?
  • How does the character behave in the presence of others? Or when alone? How does the character judge the people and situations around him or her?

Also, ask about the character’s purpose, both in life and in the story. What does the character want to achieve in the short term and for his or her long-term goals and plans? How will the character grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually as the story unfolds? How does the character face, respond to and handle problems? How does the character change by the end of the story?

As you answer these questions, ask why the character is the way you created him or her. Ask what it is the character really wants but also if that is what he or she needs. Why does the character see the world in his or her individual way? What in the character’s past makes the character the way he or she is now?

A complete history and “background check” isn’t necessary, but provides a starting point to identifying character and making the words on the page become real, seeming to turn them into a breathing, living person that resonates in the reader’s mind long after the book is finished.


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