How To Create Three-Dimensional Characters


Creating characters for your novel can be fun, but it can be harder than you think, especially once you’ve got past your protagonist, your antagonist, and your other main characters. As you get into the minor characters, how do you make sure they’re different enough from each other? How can you make sure your readers won’t get confused? How can you make sure that you, the writer, won’t get confused?

It’s a simple thing, but I find that creating a thorough character profile for each person – no matter how minor or how little they are involved in the plot – can really help. You can do this in a variety of ways, from typing it into Word, writing it in a notepad so you can have easy access to it when you’re writing, or even using computer programs that give you space to write down character information (think Scrivener, for example). Some people also find it useful to add images to their character profiles, whether from drawings they’ve done themselves, people they’ve found on Google Images, or photos they’ve found on one of the stock photos site. You can even use images of celebrities for guidance, but this doesn’t always work for everyone – once you’ve pictured Johnny Depp or Matt Damon in your lead role, you’ll find it hard to picture anyone else.

So, what to put in the actual character profile? You can add in any amount of detail that you want, but I’ve come up with a few questions for you to answer so you can really get a feel for your character, and so you can understand their actions and motivations. It’s not just about what they look like, or what job they do, or who they live with – you’ve really got to get to the bottom of the characters’ pasts, feelings, and personalities. You’ve got to think of them as real people, because to your readers, they will be (well, hopefully, anyway!)

Here’s some character profile questions to get you thinking. Let’s start with the simple stuff:

Name:

DOB:

Relationship status:

Physical appearance:

Any scars or tattoos:

Style – what kind of clothes do they like wearing:

Their job:

Their qualifications:

Place of residence:

Who do they live with:

Who is their family:

Who are their main friends:

Where did they go to school:

Main likes:

Main dislikes:

Do they own any pets:

Favourite band, TV show and film:

OK, now let’s get down to the nitty gritty:

Have they ever been in love? If so, describe their partner and how they fell for each other:

What is their biggest regret in life:

What are their biggest fears:

What activities and places to visit are on their bucket list:

How would they react if they found themselves in a fight:

What would they say are their best features / personality traits:

What would they say are their worst features / personality traits:

What three celebrities – dead or alive – would they have at their fantasy dinner party:

What is their most secret desire:

What is their dream occupation:

Name something they’ve never told anyone about:

What is their most embarrassing moment:

What qualities do they most admire in the opposite sex:

What qualities do they look for in their friends:

How do they relate to their family members:

Describe a past event that had a big impact on their life:

What is their favourite quote (funny, inspirational, motivational etc):

Who do they most admire in the whole world and why:

Well, you get the idea. You need to get inside your characters’ heads, and make sure you know everything about them. Of course, you don’t need to go into quite as much detail for the really minor characters, but just thinking about this will help you when you need to write a difficult scene, or when you don’t know how they’d react under certain circumstances, or if you’re not sure what they’d say when confronted by someone they didn’t like. Just look at what you’ve written down about their personality and their pasts, and apply that to the scene. The more you do this, the easier it will become.

So, why not try filling in a character profile for your protagonist right now? It will help you with your book, and more than anything else, it can be a pretty fun task to do! Your characters will thank you for it.

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