Characterization Station

There are certain truths in fiction writing, and the importance of characterization is inarguably one of them. Figuring out your characters and what makes them tick—their motivations, backstories, personalities—can be a deciding factor in what separates OK writing from great writing.

That said, all characters start out as unchartered territory, and they can be hard to navigate when you’re also trying to keep up with secondary characters, plot lines, tropes, and endings. Sometimes I’ll catch myself a couple thousand words into a story and realize that whomever I’m writing about is either not rounded enough, or is just flat out boring. It took me a while to understand that nine times out of ten, that boringness stems from lack of characterization. The moment I started looking below the surface of my characters was the moment that my writing style permanently changed for the better.

Creating character profiles can be a revolutionary tactic for any writer trying to get to know their characters better. They can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, but the most important component is making sure you get a better understanding of your character when all is said and done. I’ve found that an excellent way to get started is grabbing a notebook and a pen, and answering random questions for your character. Here are 38 examples to get you started:

  1. Character’s full name
  2. Do they have any nicknames?
  3. Gender?
  4. Something distinctive about their physical appearance
  5. Right or left handed?
  6. Education?
  7. Occupation?
  8. Salary?
  9. Marital status?
  10. Ethnicity?
  11. Accents?
  12. What are some significant places to them?
  13. What are they dressing up as for Halloween this year?
  14. Can they do any party tricks?
  15. What’s their email address?
  16. What’s their password?
  17. What’s their most prized possession?
  18. What would they save if their home caught on fire?
  19. What are their hobbies?
  20. What are their obsessions?
  21. What are their addictions?
  22. Beliefs?
  23. Superstitions?
  24. What do they hate?
  25. Do they like politics?
  26. Sexual/dating history?
  27. Religion?
  28. Biggest fear?
  29. Character flaws that they are aware of?
  30. Strengths?
  31. Darkest secrets?
  32. Pets?
  33. Talents?
  34. Biggest enemy?
  35. How does she/he see her/himself
  36. How is he/she seen by others?
  37. Scars?
  38. Tattoos?

The more you know about your character, the easier it will be to move them around in your story—to see them grow and change. Your voice will improve, the plot will become more engaging, and you’ll see a massive direction shift in the overall narrative. Happy writing!

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