How to Create Characters (the Design Process)
How to Create a Character
Creating a character when you’re writing a book, short story, or screenplay can be fun and exciting! It can also be a little daunting—there is a lot to consider. Part of creating a character, whether they’re the protagonist or villain, is giving them compelling, unique characteristics and finding a way that works for you to keep track of everything.
Creating a Compelling Character
Assign your characters names that serve your story.Each character in your story needs to have a name, whether they are the main character or secondary characters. And each name needs to fit within the story you’re telling. For example, if you’re writing a story based in 17th century Ireland, “Bob” isn’t going to be a very believable name, but “Aidan” would be super appropriate.
- Or if you’re writing about a group of close friends, avoid giving them similar names, like three girls named Kate, Cathy, and Katy.
- Even if you don’t end up using someone’s name in your story, like for minor characters, it’s helpful for you as the writer to know the name so you can keep the details of the story straight as you rewrite and edit your work.
Give them a rich personality and character quirks to engage the reader.Assign personality traits to your characters and give them definable quirks, like that they always drink their coffee with honey and cream instead of sugar and cream. Here are some questions to start generating some unique traits:
- Are they an introvert or an extrovert?
- What kind of music do they like, if any?
- What do they do in their spare time?
- What is their bedtime routine?
- Do they have any dietary restrictions?
- Another fun way to get inside the head of a character is to take personality quizzes based on how you think the character would answer—you might make some surprising discoveries.
Let them have a unique voice.Chances are, your character has a different voice than you do, and part of creating a vivid character is deciding how they sound and translating that into their dialogue. Research different dialects, depending on when and where your story takes place, and listen to the conversations you hear when you’re out in public to gather inspiration.
- It can also be really helpful to revisit a story you love and look at how that author wrote their characters’ dialogues.
- You could also try recording yourself while you talk to a friend to study different speech patterns: how often do you pause, when does your inflection change, at what speed do you talk? Use these variables to craft a character’s dialogue.
Make your character vulnerable to create empathy in the reader.This could be an emotional or a physical vulnerability, like having a character who is dealing with a recent loss or a superhero that loses their hearing when they get stressed out. To create complex, whole, relatable characters, they need to have vulnerabilities, just like we do.
Include flaws and failures to showcase the character’s humanity.Maybe your main character has a temper or perhaps they tend to forget about their friends. If you have a character that has only good traits—like being loving and brave and smart and attractive—they become flat and uninteresting to readers.
- Think about how you can show the flaw rather than telling it. For example, writing “Andrea made sure she got to eat dinner first instead of letting the younger kids go first,” you could write a scene where you show that action happening.
Give your character motivation and purpose to drive your story.Think about why your story matters to your character. How were they brought into it? Is it a love story, an epic adventure, a sci-fi thriller? And what does your character stand to lose or gain at the end? Your character’s purpose and goal is crucial to writing a compelling story, so work hard at crafting a vibrant, involved character.
- Is your character on a quest? What will they lose if they fail? Are other people impacted by their failure or success? These are great questions to consider as you write.
- Your character needs to actively participate in the story, rather than just having things happen to them, so take some time to think about what’s at stake for them.
- Think about your favorite characters from books, television, or movies: what kinds of situations do they encounter and how do they react to good and bad scenarios?
Organizing a Character Profile
Create a system for keeping track of each character’s profile.A character profile is a place where you keep important details and dates for every character in your story, from what their allergies are to the date that one really important thing happened. Do this for every character, no matter how small their role. There are a lot of ways you can organize this information:
- Keep a file folder with notes for each character.
- Have a notebook where you keep the character details.
- Use a word document on your computer.
- Utilize the “notes” function on your smart phone.
- Write details on sticky notes and have a wall dedicated to character development where you can display them.
Start building a character profile, even if you don’t know all the details.Sometimes details about characters don’t make themselves apparent until you’re in the midst of writing. But—whatever details you can decide on up front, write them down. Things to include:
- Their name, age, occupation, special skills, education, family details, height, weight, eye and hair colors, mannerisms, habits, and important dates.
- There are so many details you can include, and a lot of them may never make it into your story. But the fact that you know them helps you write a more well-rounded and believable character. Visit for a more comprehensive list of things you can include in the character profile.
Consider the kind of story you’re writing to guide your characters.Did you start your project with a great story idea? Or are you being driven by an awesome character and aren’t quite sure of the plot yet? There is no right answer! But it’s helpful to think about where you think the story is going and how your character lives in that world. Add these details to your character profile.
- For example, if you have an awesome idea for a love story and you know some of the twists and turns it’ll take, write them out and see if your character fits into those moments. If you need a protagonist who is romantic and plans extravagant gestures, it probably wouldn’t make sense if your character is forgetful or sloppy.
Spend some time world-building before you begin to write.Whether you’re writing something based in our world today or a story that takes place on a fictional planet, it’s important to think about the physical space in which your character will live. What does their home look like, for example? Or how do they get around from place to place?
- Other concepts to define if your world is different than ours or set in a different time period: government, social classes, job structures, economy, cultural norms, transportation options, living conditions, historically significant events, laws, recreation, and nutrition.
- This is the world in which your character is going to be living—it can really impact how you need to shape them, so plotting out some of that information beforehand is really helpful.
Adapting as You Write
Listen to your character and make changes if you need to.No, literally—read your work out loud and listen to how your character sounds. Pay attention to the dialogue and how it flows, and listen to your character descriptions. Hearing your own writing out loud can show you where you maybe need to add more detail or even take away some repetitive writing.
- There are also some software programs that will read your documents to you. Check out your writing program to see if it comes with that function.
Pay attention to your minor characters—they could be important.As you write, you may find that a minor character plays a bigger role than you thought they would, or maybe someone you thought was going to be a major character ends up being not as important. Use your character profiles to track these changes and work with them rather than trying to force your characters into certain roles.
- For example, J.K. Rowling had several of the “minor” characters, like Neville Longbottom and Dean Thomas, originally playing much bigger parts in theHarry Potteruniverse, but she ended up cutting down their roles as the stories developed.
Do more research if your character gets into foreign situations.Your character needs to be good at what they do, and if you find you’re writing about something you’re only vaguely familiar with yourself, it’s going to make the character flat. For example, if you find yourself writing about a sword fight but your character only knows how to shoot guns, do some research on sword fighting to make your writing and your character more believable.
- Similar situations can arise when your character has to travel to a different place or needs a skill that you don’t actually have experience with, like fly-fishing or picking locks.
Be open to changing details—nothing is written in stone.A lot of fiction writers believe that their characters lead the story and sometimes things can change drastically from the beginning to the end of a project. Maybe you find that your main character needs to be a different gender (or not gendered) at all. Or perhaps you thought your story would take place in a certain time period or world but the writing leads you to discover something else.
- A helpful way to not feel like you’re losing all the work you’ve done when you make drastic changes is to copy and paste your original work into another document titled “cuts” rather than just deleting it. That way you have the material if you want to go back to it and can reference it when you need to.
QuestionCan my character be a demi human? ( a half human half animal )wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerAbsolutely! That sounds like an incredible, creative idea! Your characters can be anything you want them to be.Thanks!
QuestionWhat kind of Name would be good for a smart black 13 year old girl?wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerThere are lots of different options for names! Try searching online or reading books that feature smart, african american kids to get more ideas!Thanks!
QuestionWhat is a good number of characters?wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerIt's really going to depend on what kind of story you're writing, how long it is, and what happens in the story. Generally, you want at least 1 protagonist, several secondary characters, and 1 or 2 antagonist. Some stories only have a few characters while other have dozens!Thanks!
QuestionMy character is in love with the antagonist. Is that okay?wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerThat's definitely okay. That can make for some really interesting writing. Try to dive into the "why" behind their attraction.Thanks!
QuestionCan I kill off the main character towards the end, or would that create problems later on the book?wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerYou can kill them off--just be mindful of how that might impact your readers. Is there another character they'll be rooting for? Or is the villain taking over? There are a lot of possibilities!Thanks!
QuestionHow can I make a character behave similar to Mr. Spock from Star Trek, but without being a copy.wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerYou can have your character mimic Mr. Spock's mannerisms and speech patterns, though you may want to consider creating some unique characteristics for your character to keep them from being a copy.Thanks!
QuestionI have two characters, they got married, and they are great. Now I want the new character, their baby I have the life story planned out but I want them to look like both parents, how do I do that?wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerUse some of the physical descriptions you used for the parents and echo them when you describe the baby--like eye color, skin tone, the shape of a chin, etc.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I know if my character is good enough?wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerAre the compelling? Do they have unique characteristics and motives for their actions? And most importantly, do you like them? A lot of writers often feel that their characters or stories will never be "good enough," but eventually you have to release your writing out into the world (or to your friends and family).Thanks!
QuestionOne of my characters parents are dead, but they arent depressed about it, they still get sad but theyre not depressed, would this still be considered cliche?wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerNot necessarily. When you write about the situation, try to avoid cliched language and to write about their emotions in a unique way.Thanks!
QuestionI based a character on a family member. However I was told I should think about changing them as they don't seem real. What should I do?wikiHow Staff EditorStaff AnswerYou could try modifying the character a bit with some other details. But in the end, if YOU like the character the way you wrote them, then stick with your gut.Thanks!
To create a character, start by creating an interesting, fitting name for their profile. Then, make a list of their physical traits as well as their life circumstances, like how old they are, what job they have, and where they grew up. Come up with a voice for them in your head, and give them a few flaws to make them more relatable for the reader. Once you have an idea of who your character is as a person, decide what their goals and desires are, which will help drive the plot of your story.
- Read more in your genre and style—if you are writing a screenplay, read physical copies of screenplays. If you’re writing sci-fi, read more sci-fi. Whatever it is you want to do, become an expert in that field by consuming as much of it as you can.
- Remember that writing is a creative art form, so feel free to experiment with your characters.
- Be sure not to plagiarize other authors in your writing and character creation. You can definitely be inspired by others, but let that inspiration lead you to your own unique creations.
Sources and Citations
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