In order to create realistic, three-dimensional characters that leap off the page and linger in your readers’ minds, you need to know every aspect of their life, appearance, and personality, their actions and interactions with the world around them and their history. Some of this information may become backstory, but most of it is simply to ensure that you know your character and their motivations well enough to write them consistently and with enough depth to make them memorable. At the very least you need to consider the following:
- Full name, plus any nicknames or aliases
- Date of birth, and their current age in your novel
- Place of birth, nationality, belief systems, accent
- Physical appearance – height, complexion, body type, hair and eye colour, health, style of clothing, any distinctive features?
- Family and family history – who their family are and what their family relationships are like.
- Level of education and occupation, socioeconomic status.
- General history – where did they grow up, important events and experiences in their life.
- Likes and dislikes in terms of movies, music, food, colours, TV, books, other people, the world in general – any pet peeves, strong opinions, phobias, obsessions, beliefs, etc.
- Friendships and significant others
- Personality and character traits – are they bold, bossy, adventurous, aimless, temperamental, spoiled or ambitious? Anxious, envious, arrogant, energetic, flirtatious, confident, predictable or erratic? Ignorant, imaginative, mean, meek, naaive, popular, practical, sad, sarcastic or witty? These are only some of the possibilities, and these traits will largely dictate how your character acts and reacts to situations.
- Where do they live? Trendy inner city apartment, rural farmhouse, suburban family home? Are they more concerned with comfort or status? What do they surround themselves with? Any prized possessions?
- What type of transportation do they use?
- What do the like or dislike about themselves? Are they motivated to change the things they dislike about themselves?
- What are their most treasured or most traumatic memories?
- What makes this character interesting?
- What is their biggest secret?
- What is their biggest fear?
- What is most important to them?
- What motivates this character?
- What is their relationship to other characters in the story?
- What is their role in the story? Protagonist, antagonist, anti-hero, love interest, etc.
- How does this character appear to other people? If the people that knew this character were to describe them in just a few words, what words would they use? Compassionate? Independent? Reliable? Annoying?
- Leave space in your character profiles to jot down any notes or keep track of important developments for your character as the story develops. This helps to maintain consistency without having to repeatedly track through hundreds of pages of manuscript in the initial writing phase.
Asking these questions and developing a detailed character profile enables you to create vibrant characters to drive your story. Your characters are the heart and soul of your novel, and unless your reader cares what happens to them, all of the other elements of the story will fall flat.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Are there any questions that you would add?