Three categories to better characters
Sometimes, when creating a character, it is good to break the characteristics of character into three general categories: Inside, outside, and roundabout side. In reality as in your characters, you will probably find that these categories overlap, bump up against each other, maybe even at times clash. Sometimes a good character, like a real person, can be his or her own worst enemy.
Use this below as a starting point. You can add your own questions or prompts. And you can use this for all the major characters, including the protagonist and antagonist. It could even help with some of the minor characters, too.
With the following categories in mind, reread your manuscript with an eye toward making your characters as compelling as possible: both the good guys and the bad ones.
1. Looking in or sometimes called motivation
- What does your character want?
- What does your character need?
- Can you create a situation in which the need and the want come into conflict with each other?
- Did your character have a happy or unhappy childhood and why?
- What is your character obsessed with?
- What is your character’s biggest fear?
- What is your character’s biggest secret?
- What is the best thing that has happened to your character? The worst?
- What are your character’s past and present relationships? With parents? With friends? With enemies? With co-workers?
- What does your character care about?
2. Looking out or sometimes called appearance, aesthetics, maybe even Mirror, mirror on the wall
- What sex is your character?
- How old is your character?
- How tall is your character?
- Hair color? Eye color? Skin color?
- How many eyes, fingers, toes, etc. does your character have, or does your character have only some or none of these?
- Does your character have an odd-shaped nose or other physical trait? Is this trait lifelong or recently acquired?
- Does your character dress in the latest fashion with new clothes, in hand-me-downs, second-hand shop clothes, bargain basement buys?
- Does your character practice regular hygiene? Bath/shower regularly? Smell if he or she doesn’t?
- What would another character say about this character’s overall appearance?
3. Looking round about or sometimes called quirkiness, idiosyncrasy, or sometimes just plain weird
Please note, that a character’s quirkiness can often arise out of the looking in or looking out categories, and sometimes when one meets the other.
For example, the character could wear a fedora, may even have several for different occasions, and will wear nothing else on his / her head.
A small fear can be an idiosyncrasy. Your character could be afraid of spiders or the number 13.
- Does your character always were the same color?
- Does your character have a favorite number?
- Does your character always count up the change in his / her pocket the same way? Pennies first, then nickels, then dimes, etc.?
- Does your character have a nickname? If so, what is it and how does it relate to the character?
- What is the one word that would best describe your character?
–David E. Booker