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How to Build Your Story Character as a Fiction Writer

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PS has worked as a freelance writer since 2012. When she's not traveling and writing, she helps people with web design and development.

Character Development is vital when writing a strong story. Weak characters make for a weak story.

— Beem Weeks, short story writer and novelist

To write fiction is to walk on a rope, one mistake and the whole thing will turn out to be a disaster. You need the correct balance and focus mindset. There is a need for a well-maintained combination of plot, description, action, and character to develop an effective storyline for your readers.

Above all, character development is the most essential element of any fiction writing, whether it’s novel, short story, screenplay or any other. You must create a realistic set of characters to give an intriguing touch to your plot. To make sure you achieve this realism in your writing, you, first, need to know your characters.

  • Before beginning with your work, think about it how much you know them?
  • Are they Convincing?
  • Do they have depth?
  • Do they have an arc?

Related Content: How to Write Different Types of Character Arcs

It depends on your story plot. The amount of character information needed is estimated through the length of your story.

But first of all, what are the most common types of fiction writing?

how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

1. Flash Fiction

It is one of the hardest fiction writings. In flash fiction, you need to cover up a whole story in a very short length, counting up to a few hundred words. Consequently, you need to describe your character with limited information, such as:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Eye Colour
  • Hair Color
  • Hair Style
  • Complexion
  • Body Build

Related Content: How to Write and Promote Your Flash Fiction

A Short Story is the Ultimate close-up magic trick to take you around the universe or break your heart with just a couple of thousand words

— Neil Gaiman, American Gods and other famous fiction-based and comic books writer

2. Short Stories

Short stories have comparatively higher word count than flash fiction, counting up to 5,000 to 10,000 words or even more, sometimes. So, it gives you enough liberty to give a more vivid description of the characters such as background information and body language. Some of the important characteristics can be, in addition to above-mentioned points in flash fiction:

  • Character’s Past Story
  • Birthmarks or Identification Marks
  • Facial and Hand features
  • Scent
  • Mannerisms and Expressions
how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

3. Novellas and Novels

These are the lengthiest of all and need to have a detailed description of all characters because they are based on a character-driven approach. When you read novels, you’ll realize how every part of it contributes to the character’s description and a story revolving around him/her. Your character information also needs to include other traits like detailed physical description, extensive background, and personality traits to engage your readers until the end. Make use of the following attributes:

  • Strongest and Weakest Personality traits
  • Character Needs and Desires
  • Family Description
  • Favorite quotes
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Favorite colors
  • Favorite food
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Financial situation
  • Character’s most valuable possessions
  • Character’s driving force
  • Favorite sport and Vehicle
  • Prejudices
  • Secret ambitions
  • Neighborhood Description
  • Childhood Memories

You can also write about how the character’s philosophy on life and his circumstances changed from early childhood to adulthood. It will also help you build an outline of your story.

The Dark Tower is a book series written by Stephen King. It has total of eight books in the series.

The Dark Tower is a book series written by Stephen King. It has total of eight books in the series.

4. Book Series

Harry Potter, Twilight, A song of Ice and Fire, Divergent, etc. are some of the examples of famous book series. While reading these or any other book series, you must have realized, if not, then take a look at them again to know how each book of the series covers up the same personality traits of each character with no slight mistake.

Book series is generally a collection of serial novels. Every character traits discussed above goes here in a similar way, the only difference is to carry them as they are in the entire series to maintain a perfect tone of the story.

Clothing Description

Only if clothing change is a crucial part of your story, add it in detail, otherwise, it’s better to limit your fashion description. There’s no need to talk about the type of clothes the character is wearing, it’s of interest to the readers.

Detailed List of Character Traits (Character Sheet) Discussed Above

The best writing is the one in which readers feel themselves to be a part of the story. For this, you need to put a massive focus on the character development so that your story is captivating, believable and unique. To help you out with this step, here is a detailed list of character traits (character sheet, as we all generally call it):


how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

1. General Information

Name

  • Full name
  • Origin

Nickname

  • Who created it for the specific character
  • Does the character like it or not

Age

  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth

Background

  • Ethnic Background
  • Religion
  • How much faith the Character has in his/her Religion

Current Location

  • Does he live in an owned or rented place
  • Home Description
  • Who lives with him/her
  • Locality
  • Does he/she love the place
  • Home Decor

Pets

  • Names
  • How Many
  • Are they Gifted to the Character or Adopted
  • How he/she treats them

Job

  • Current Occupation
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Income
  • Time Length
  • Location
  • Title

Education

Car

  • Model
  • Make
  • Color
  • Age

Personal Information

  • Sexuality
  • Marital Status
  • Partner/Spouse
  • Past Relations
  • Children
how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

2. Physical Appearance

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Body Type
  • Eye Colour
  • Does he/she wear glasses or hearing aids?
  • Skin Tone
  • Important Feature
  • Face Shape
  • Resemblance to a relative or famous person
  • Health
  • Health Problem
  • Dressing Style
  • Special Jewellery
  • Grooming
  • Hair Style and Colour
  • Smiling Manner
  • Laughing Style
how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

3. Communication Behaviour

  • Does he/she talk fast or slow
  • Accent
  • Voice Tone
  • Favorite phrase or word
  • Mannersims
  • Posture
  • Gesture
how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

4. Everyday Behaviour

  • Finances
  • Personal Habits
  • Morning Routine
  • Afternoon Activities, including lunch
  • Dinner
  • Evening Routine
  • Bedtime
  • Skills
  • Hidden Talent
  • Hobbies
how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

5. Past Life

  • Home town
  • Childhood memories
  • Best memory
  • Worst memory
  • Past Jobs
  • Police Records
  • Crime, if any
  • First Love/Crush
  • First Sexual Experience
  • Major accidents

6. Family Background

  • Family members’ names
  • Their occupations
  • Their relationship with each other and with the character
how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

7. Relationship with Others

  • Best and Close Friends
  • Strangers
  • Spouse
  • Past Lover/Spouse
  • Children
  • Boss
  • Competitors
  • Authority
  • What Everyone Likes about him/her
  • What is his/her Biggest Flaw according to others
  • Secret attractions
  • Sexual Behaviour
  • Liked and Disliked Person(s)
  • Social Media Behavior
  • Persons they depend on
how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

8. Attitude and Personal Beliefs

  • Any Psychological Issues
  • Optimist or Pessimist
  • Comfortable Situations
  • Uncomfortable Situations
  • Personality Type
  • Priority
  • Personal Philosophy
  • Biggest Embarrassment
  • Greatest Wish
  • Prejudices
  • Political Beliefs
  • Strength and Flaw
  • Regrets
  • Accomplishments
  • Secrets
  • Who knows this secret
  • Short and Long Term Goals
  • Life-Changing Events
how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

9. Likes and Dislikes

  • Food
  • Drink
  • Color
  • Film
  • Music
  • Book
  • Sport
  • Quote
  • Possession

A character description helps readers better understand the story and his/her mentality towards different situations. Besides developing a fine character, maintain its consistency across the plot. His/her behavior needs to be similar when facing similar situations at different levels, also depending on the storyline.

Phases of Character Development

To enrich your character with life, remember these 3 vital phases of character development:

  1. Character Story Sketch
  2. Character Snapshots
  3. Character Revealing Scenes

Each phase has its own importance, neglecting any of them can cause you a lack of luster in your character-driven storyline. Let’s read about them in detail:

1. Character Story Sketch

Character Story Sketch provides you with little mandatory details about all the possible characters. For example, “Emily is a short blonde with a few extra pounds and a whole lot of confidence.”

2. Character Snapshots

Character Snapshots help you add depth to your characters. It reveals the character’s psychology to the readers. For example, if you are describing a traumatic situation, you can write, “Emily was abused as a child.”

3. Character Revealing Scenes

Character Revealing Scenes give readers a better insight into the deeper aspects of the characters through a compelling scene. It combines both character story sketch and character snapshots. For example, to further support the traumatic situation of the character, you can write, “When Emily watched a woman hitting her daughter in the store. Her muscles tightened. She couldn’t contain herself, not after what she want through as a child. No. She had to protest!”

how-to-build-your-story-character-as-a-fiction-writer

Don’t Forget the Antagonist

An antagonist plays the same equal and important role as protagonist in shaping the plot of the story. Think about how you are going to present this role in the conflict with respect to your main character.

  • What are his goals?
  • What pushed him towards these goals?

Elaborating his/her likes, dislikes, sufferings would take up lots of your valuable time, instead, start with his/her goals and as the story proceeds, you’ll gain a better understanding of the character.

What scenes reveal the Character’s Persona/Psychology?

There are some major attributes of every character’s persona that are revealed when facing a specific situation. While writing, keep this point in mind, what types of scenes can reveal the character’s following psychological or behavioral situations:

  • Appearance
  • Quirks
  • Character’s Lesson
  • Skills and Weaknesses
  • Motivation
  • Trauma

While character development is the most important part of a story, the skills to insert a whole story into it requires you to be more creative and alert. To make sure, your writing wins the readers, it is better to read some other similar novels to get an idea of how everything falls into place.

As said by Stephen King, “To be a good writer, you need to be a good reader first.”

© 2019 PS Tavishi

Comments

PS Tavishi (author) from India on July 01, 2019:

Thank you, LaZeric. Writer's block is very annoying. I am glad the article could help you.

LaZeric Freeman from Hammond on July 01, 2019:

Very cool. This article is helping my writer’s block. Thank you.