A Helpful Reference for Creating Realistic Characters

When I think of my favourite characters (Lyra Belacqua, Atticus Finch, Frodo, Heathcliff, Harry Potter … to name but a few), I think of very strong, prominent, and well-defined people. People stories are built on. People that make and break the tale, that leave you feeling spent when you’ve finished reading. None of these characters are perfect, but all of them are real. They are well-written, well-presented, and well-developed.

‘C’ is for Creating Characters

When it comes to writing your own characters, it is important to know – thoroughly – who they are as people. These are the people that your story will be built on. The people that will lead your readers from page one to ‘The End’. You need to know how they will react if you put them into different situations, if you throw their nightmares at them. You need to know how they will respond when you confront them with unusual circumstances and increasingly unpleasant, or difficult-to-deal-with, personalities. You need to know how (or, if) they will cope when you present them with darkness, and very little chance of a redeeming light. Not because they absolutely-have-to-cope, but because not coping will lead them in a different narrative direction to successfully facing down whatever terrible dilemma you gave them.

Part of writing your first, second, third (et al) draft of your story will be discovering the heights and depths of not only your plot, but also your characters. Just as in life, your characters’ experiences will become a part of who they are. With every rewrite, your story will define, improve, take shape. And so will the people that live in your tale.

I had planned on creating a list of character-based considerations that it is important to think about when you are planning, creating, and/or writing your characters … but this article covers it perfectly. So instead, I thought I’d share the list of character considerations that I use when planning my stories.

This list has changed and developed a number of times since I first began playing with it, but in the last couple of years it’s mostly stayed the same. It’s much shorter than it was originally, now with only 15 fields, but I found that I just didn’t need (or want) a lot of the information it asked for. So I reduced it. I like that it is so adaptable and that it separates the information into different sections – with the most important details right at the top of the page.

You can use this list as a gentle reminder of particular traits (etc) you’re yet to develop or want to include, or you could save/print it and then fill in the fields against your every character. I tend to keep a blank template of this list, and then adapt it to my work by adding or removing any desired or unnecessary fields per project.

Name …

Character Type (Role) … (eg. Lead, Confidante, Love Interest, Antagonist, etc)

Important Notes … (eg. Narrator/POV, etc)

Story Goal …

Motivation …

Flaw(s) …

Strength(s) …

Strongest Relationship(s) …

Family Ties …

Species …

Status … (eg. Alive, Wanted, Elected, etc)

Job/Skill …

Physical Appearance … (generally a brief, overall description, and mention of any distinguishing features/marks. Tattoos? Scars? Etc)

Personal Traits, Qualities …

Other …

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to have a look at my 10 Character Description Exercises: Part 1 and Part 2!



3 thoughts on “A Helpful Reference for Creating Realistic Characters

    1. I like that! I’m the same with flash fiction – what genre/style stories do you write?

      The fields on the list are all optional, but it’s really handy for noting down important ideas and character details.

      I’ll look for your flash fiction pieces on your website! Thank you for your comment, and best wishes with your writing! 🙂

      1. Thank you for the best wishes! 🙂 I am glad i stumbled upon your informative post. 🙂

        I write mostly fictional but real-life events stories. They are mostly dark, tragic or sad though I always try to write something bright from time to time. 🙂

        I would love to read more from you, too! 🙂

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