NaNoWriMo: Ten Questions for Character Development in Fiction

By Derrian Goebel

There are many ways to develop a well-rounded character, but when you think of your character, you should be “seeing” this character as a real person. Think of this new person as a friend, or someone near and dear to you. Get to know this person by doing a character sketch.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is this person’s name?
    • This might be a time where you consider your character’s age when finding names of people from certain eras; for example, Dorothy was popular in the 1900-1920s as opposed to Bella, which is currently popular.
  2. How old is this person?
    • A character’s age will affect their whole lives—how they interact with others, how they perceive others, their levels of education, how they react in stressful situations, etc. For example, if you were to give a 4 year old a balloon, they would react differently than an 11 year old or someone in their late teens.
  3. What does this person look like?
    • When describing a character it’s best to have a “picture” of this person in your mind, so that you may recall details. If a story has a woman character tossing her hair, was her hair long or not? If you’d said earlier that she had super short hair, this wouldn’t work, causing a conflict of character.
  4. What are this person’s verbal traits?
    • How does he/she talk to others? Does he/she speak rapidly, or slowly?
    • Often, a train of thought tends to interrupt speech—does he/she stay focused in conversation or do they go off on tangents?
    • Sound of voice—do they speak with a smoky voice, raspy, screechy, soft, loud, etc.?
    • Do they talk with their hands? Are they monotone in their speech?
  5. What quirks or personality traits does this person have?
    • Think of someone you know. What is that one little thing that you notice they do every time? Maybe they chew on their pencil when deep in thought. Real people have quirks.
    • What personality traits does this person have? Are they quick to anger? Are they huggers? This will lend to a more plausible character.
  6. What about your character’s history/era?
    • Is the character in the 17th century of the 19th century? (there’s a big difference)
    • Did this person come from a particular social class? Were they responsible for younger siblings, or were they an only child? The history of a person shapes who they have become.
  7. What relationships does this person have? How does this person interact with these people? Is it different than how they interact with the general public?
    • Now that you know all of the above, you need to know how this person interacts with other characters in your story. Is the character a spouse? Is he/she a parent or child?
    • Does this person treat everyone the same? Robots would treat everyone the same. People have a sense of “other,” that the other person is unlike themselves. How do they react when encountering this “other”? How is this reaction different from encountering people they’re used to? For example, a teenager will react with eye rolling when getting advice from his/her parent, rather than when a professor gives them advice.
  8. Does your character have ambition/motivation?
    • What does he/she value most? What is he/she after? If your character doesn’t care about anything, then why would readers?
    • Does he/she have an unrealized ambition? Some will start out not caring, but end up with a passion that they discover. Character arc is important to development –this person needs to mature over time by learning, changing, and growing as a person.
  9. What about their inner thoughts?
    • What is his/her internal dialog like? Does he/she speak their minds exactly? (most of us don’t)
    • Does this person have internal conflict? Do they do one thing, but really want to do something else?
  10. Are there restrictions or limits for your character?
    • For every Superman, there is a Kryptonite. What holds this person back? What is his/her weakness? This will give your character challenge in the story, which is plausible, making him/her more of a believable, “real” person.

Answering these questions will greatly improve your story’s characters by making them well rounded. Think of your character as Pinocchio—he just wanted to be a real boy. By fleshing out your character, you will create a realistic person that readers will become invested in and want to read more about.

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