Developing three-dimensional, believable characters is one of the most important components when writing
fiction. Many people find this an enjoyable part of writing, while others find it a struggle. If you belong to the
second group, try to think of developing a character as meeting someone new. There are many suggested
tactics for inspiring your imagination. This is just one simple, step-by-step method of developing a realistic
1. Start by creating a sketchy character file that includes only physical attributes. Get a good picture of
your character in mind:
Hair colour, length and texture
Eye colour and size
Skin tone, fair, dark, clear, spotty
Height and build
2. Now that you know what your character looks like, add an interesting trait that sets him apart from
others. Is his hair frizzy and completely out of control? Do his eyebrows meet in the middle? Maybe he has a
tattoo of a wombat on his thigh. Is his voice unnaturally high? This interesting trait will give you a little bit
more insight into your character and possibly some ideas for your plot.
Let’s choose a character with long, wild, frizzy hair. Maybe your character is self-conscious about this but is
attached to it for some reason (there’s a back story here). He refuses to cut it. This means that he spends
much of his time gelling, brushing and trying to control it.
3. Next, set up a short scene that includes this character trait and how your character feels about it.
One day our character is late for work and is trying to hide from Posy, the chatty, elderly woman next door.
He hasn’t had time to manage his hair so he grabs his brush and ponytail holders and walks to his car in a
crouch, hiding behind the brick wall that separates their yards. His hair puffs up and out and over the wall
and gives him away. Posy spots him.
4. Ask yourself a question: How does your character respond to this? Does he stand politely for the next
few minutes while Posy chats about her Begonias? Does he get red in the face and begin to sweat, causing
further frizz in his hair? Maybe he’s rude. He’s had enough and simply walks away. The way your character
responds to Posy will give away a little more of his personality.
This should have introduced you to your character. You still may not know him very well, but you should start
feeling a bit more confident in the fact that this character will eventually come to life for you. This newfound
assurance will help you take it a bit further.
5. It’s time to walk through a day with your character and his frizzy hair. What time does he wake up? Does
he live alone? What’s his house like? Is he a morning person or does he growl until he’s had his coffee?
Where does he work? How does he get there? Does he like his job? Does he have friends? A pet? Follow
him through one full weekday. You must be getting to know your character by now.
6. Now … what does he do on the weekends? This will tell you as much, if not more about him than his
weekdays. Is he sporty? A computer nerd? Does he take his dog to obedience school? Play the trombone? Is
he in training to swim across the Tasman Sea? Is Mr. Frizz beginning to take on a personality?
7. Once you’ve learned about your character in the present, delve into his background. Where did he
grow up? Are his parents still alive? Did he know money or was he a street kid? Does he know who they are?
What was his favourite thing to do as a child? A teenager?
8. How does his background affect his outlook on life today? You don’t have to spell this out in your
manuscript and it’s often better if you don’t, but if you are aware of this background information, your
characters will be consistent in thought, word and deed.
Release your imagination and enjoy the journey. Creating complete characters with rich and consistent
personalities is within your reach. If you enjoy meeting people, you’ll enjoy developing them as well.
Creating Consistent Characters