How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need to completely fill it out – you may never get around to writing a story if you do it all for every character!

This is a multi-part blog, with this one focusing on an overview. Part 2 will discuss personal life, relationships, adventuring, equipment, combat, and the supernatural. Since I’m a fantasy author, some of this applies to my genre but may not to yours. Part 3 includes a downloadable template (for Word or as a PDF).

Role in the Story

What purpose does this character serve for your story and in relation to your main character?  If a main character, more of this template should be filled out.  Minor characters need less.

General Description

Overall

Describe this character in 2-3 sentences.  You should have this ready in case someone asks and for your own benefit.

Physical Appearance

Include any scars, tattoos, or distinguishing marks, plus body type, size, and the usual height/weight and coloring info.  What impression do they create?  How do they feel about their appearance?  Do they let themselves go or stay fit and tidy?  Have any vices impacted their appearance?  How old are they, and how old do they feel/look/wish they were?  Does he have any injuries that still affect him?

Height Height in feet or just tall, medium, short
Weight A number or just fitness level
Eyes
Hair Include length with color

Mental Appearance

Intelligence and Wisdom

How smart/dumb is he and about what?  Book smarts vs. real world smarts?  People smart?  Emotionally smart?

Disposition/Temperament

Is he friendly, shy, bold, cocky, laid back, uptight, nervous, quiet until you know him?

Passions, Vices, Ideas, Fears, & Torments

What ideas drive him?  What vices does he have?  What is he passionate about?  What torments or haunts him (any demons?)?   What is he afraid of and what is the greatest fear (does he know it?)?

Desires, Goals, and Intentions

Who/what does he want to be with, achieve, or avoid and why?  Is he compassionate, self-absorbed, indifferent?

What He Thinks of Himself

How self-aware is he?  For all the attributes you wrote above, does he know these things or not?  Is he an unreliable narrator if you’re writing in first person?

What Others Think of Him

This means people who know him.

Reputation

This means people who do not know him.  Reputation is an opinion about a stranger.

Gods, Religion, and Beliefs

What religion does he follow and does he actually believe in it or just go through the motions?  Is he a sinner?  Holier-than-thou?  Tolerant or intolerant?  Is he an atheist?  Do religions please him or drive him nuts?  Does he act in accordance with his beliefs or is he a hypocrite?  Does he know this on some level?

What does he actually believe?  Is he right/wrong?

Has he ever changed what he believes or religions?  Why?

Strengths

Does he know his strengths?  What are they?  Do people resent them or appreciate them?  Does he resent or appreciate that?

Weaknesses

Does he know his weaknesses, including vices?  What are they?  Do people know about them?  Is he scorned or mocked for them?  Do others take advantage?  Does he try to hide them to prevent them or from shame?  How much control over his life do they have?  Have they ever destroyed him?  Will they?  Does he triumph or succumb?  What is his fate?  Will he be a cautionary tale?

Coda

You can read Part 2 here.

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2 thoughts on “How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

  1. Pingback: How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2 | Randy Ellefson's Blog

  2. Pingback: How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3 | Randy Ellefson's Blog

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