Defining your characters in a story is huge.  Think about your favorite books.  What keeps you turning the page?  Certainly, a good plot is necessary.  But when you really care about the characters, you want to keep reading to find out what happens to them.  Think of Harry Potter.  Here is this poor orphaned kid, thrown into an unknown magical world where he finds he is suddenly the Chosen One and has to fight evil with barely any acquired skills.  Talk about rooting for the little guy!  Harry deserves to succeed.  He’s been through a lot, yet he still fights with all of his heart and for what’s good and right in the world.  On the other hand, Voldemort is pure evil and devious.  You get to know this villain and secondary character well enough not to want to see him succeed, but to see him fail.

How do you develop your characters?  Different authors go about it in different ways.  When you’re starting out, it helps to do some of these exercises to get to know your character.

First, some tips:

  • What motivates your character? What emotions or personality trait causes them to react the way they do?  Does a betrayal from a friend cause a girl to keep her from getting close to others because of her fear of rejection?  Does a brave, daring boy leap into situations without thinking about the consequences?


  • Unique traits help define a character whether it’s a ‘large, bulbous nose that seemed to lead him around’ or a quirky mannerism like blowing her bangs out of her face constantly.


  • Make sure your character is believable. They should resemble a living person (unless you are writing about an alien or superhero).


  • Give them flaws. No one is perfect.  Neither are your characters.  Besides, being perfect doesn’t make for an interesting read.


  • What are their fears and desires? Will they do anything to protect a loved one, even if it’s dangerous to them?  Are they blinded by the quest for fame and will hurt others to achieve it?  These may fall into the motivator category as well.

Developing a character profile is very beneficial for some people.  (Download a sample Character Profile).  You won’t use all of the information about a character that you write down.  But you will know your characters so well that it will be easy to write about how they would handle a situation.  You’ve probably heard some authors say, “I wasn’t planning on making my main character do that, but that’s where she led me.”  It means that the character becomes so fully developed that they take on a life of their own.

  • Write down everything you can think of about a character: name, age, relatives, how they look, what their favorite things are, and their best and worst qualities.


  • Write a short story solely about that character, working in as many details about the character as you can. It will be too descriptive for a story, but it will help you get to know your character better.  If you want to be more creative with your story, you could write it as a personal ad as someone seeking a companion, as a new penpal writing for the first time, or a police description of a missing person or criminal.


  • Sit in a public place and just observe people. Keep a journal of unusual traits, vivid descriptions and the way people act to develop future characters.

Remember to be specific with details (not brown hair, but kinky, dark curls), distinguishable in looks, personalities, and traits.  Carry these details throughout your story and make us care about those characters.

Leave a comment with a short descriptive quirky trait for a character.

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