Building Believable Characters in 5 Simple Steps

The success of a story often hinges on the strength and authenticity of its characters. A flashy world or intriguing plot may play a part, but it’s the relationships we form with the characters that create a meaningful and lasting connection to the work.

While your characters will continue to evolve throughout your writing process, it’s important to begin developing them before you start your story. The more fully-realized your characters are from the outset, the easier it will be to write decisive character arcs and keep details consistent throughout your novel.

A character profile can look like a list of questions and answers, a worksheet, or an elaborate bio, but the form you choose doesn’t matter – this profile is just for you. The purpose here is to get to know your characters so you can make them believable and write the best possible story. If you’re new to character creation, or need a little extra guidance, here’s how you can create a basic character profile in five simple steps.

1. Analyze your favorite fictional characters

Before you begin developing your own characters, reflect on the characters that have impacted you most as a reader. Whether these characters appealed to you or repelled you, you can gain inspiration for your own characters by observing why the writing was effective.

Leaf through those books, taking note of character descriptions, details and plot points that contributed to how you felt about those characters. Did the author set you up to dislike someone through their mannerisms? Is your crush on a character related to their hobbies, physical description and/or values, or is it because you’re seeing them through the lens of a lovestruck protagonist? The more you familiarize yourself with the careful architecture of fictional characters, the better you’ll become at developing your own.

2. Start with the basics

Make sure you can picture your character before delving too far into their psyche. How old do you picture your character? Have you thought of a name? Consider their physical features, style, mannerisms, voice – even the way they walk. More attributes may come to you as you develop your personality, so you can come back to fill in any missing information. Likewise, the physical features that first come to mind may inform their personality as you move on to the next steps.

3. Explore their backstory

Once you have a basic vision for this character, it’s time to look at how they’ve become the person they are when we meet them. Write down where this character is from, what their childhood is like, and other experiences that may have shaped them as a person. How is their relationship with their family? Did they just go through a breakup? The better understanding you have of your character’s backstory, the easier it will be to write about them moving forward.

4. Uncover their values and beliefs

Next, take it to the core of your character. What does your character believe? Perhaps they adhere to a particular religion or have a loose sense of morality. What is their biggest fear? And most importantly, what do they want – on a superficial level as well as a deeper one? Are they seeking acceptance, validation, or fame? Jot down any goals and desires they carry with them that could act as a motivation in your story.

It’s also worth considering how their beliefs or values may change how they interact with their environment or the way other characters view them. Do they blend into their world or stand out?

5. Detail their function and arc

Now that you know who your character is, you can decide where you’ll place them in your story. Are they a protagonist, antagonist, or a sidekick for comic relief? Could they be a coworker or a parent? Don’t worry if the character’s original function in the story has changed now that you’ve spent time with them; place them in the role that feels right to you now.

You should also consider how your character will develop throughout your story. This may not be something you can elaborate on at this stage, but it helps to have a rough idea of an arc you’d like them to take. Will they find independence or open up to love? Maybe they sink further into bitterness? A character’s arc is what takes the reader along for the ride, so if they play any significant role, you’ll need to think about how they’ll change.

Don’t expect yourself to know every detail of your characters before you begin your novel but laying the groundwork will help you stay on track as you write and ensure the characters are believable. The more you know who you’re writing about, the better the chance your audience will be captivated by them.

  • Posted by Julia McAlpine
  • July 21, 2020 12:18 PM PDT
The more you know who you’re writing about, the better the chance your audience will be captivated by them.




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