Questions to ask yourself – Part 4: Character development

Not every character needs to jump off the page, but it's still a good idea to people your manuscript with a memorable cast. If you have a clear sense of each character, their substance and personality will more easily translate. 

Use the questions below to flesh out the people in your story. Minor characters don't require as much detail, of course, but it's still a good idea to know what makes them unique, as well as what motivates them. For each detail, ask how it impacts the story, and if it has no impact, move on. If it does have an impact, describe how. 

By Eric Maika

Part 4: Character Development

Brainstorming questions for writers and authors on character development, fleshing out a character, how to write lifelike characters

Where is their home? What is it like?

Do they own any possessions?

What is their medical history?

What are their lifestyle tastes and preferences?

What are their political opinions?

What symbols will you associate with this character (Expressing the character’s nature metaphorically via objects or settings)?

What is their social status and background?

What is their ethnicity?

What are their behaviours and habits?

How does the character behave under stress?

What is the character motivated by?

What is the character’s agenda at the start of the story, or when they are introduced?

What will cause the character to change? If the character doesn’t change, what stops them?

What adversities does the character face?

What is the relationship between the character and society they are in? How does this define their identity?

What is their ideal world?

What would be the worst-case scenario for this character?

What is this character’s terrible secret?

What are the character’s values?

How does the character perceive their life circumstances at the start of the story or when they are introduced?

Does the character misinterpret anything important?

What are the character’s noticeable habits?

Does the character have a relationship to any important inanimate objects?

How does the character break stereotypes built up about them? How does this affect the plot?

In what ways does this character suffer?

Does the character have power and freedom to act? What are their constraints?

What is the character’s weakness?

What immoral actions can occur because of their weakness?

What are the character’s moral needs? Psychological needs?

Who is the character’s opponent? Does their opponent share the same goal?

What is the character’s strategy to achieve their goal?

How does the character come to realize or face their weakness?

Does this character fit an archetype?

How does this character address the moral problem central to the story?

What are the characters emotional scars and ghosts from the past?

What internal conflicts do they struggle with?

What is the observer's first impression of the character? This can be expressed in terms of adjective and noun of vocation, e.g. obnoxious ambulance driver.

How does the characters body size and shape affect how they interact?

How does the character’s life experience and education shape how they interact with others?

How does the character exhibit body language or manifest feelings physically?

What is the character’s self-image and how does it differ from how others see them?

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