An author should know their character intimately, they should know their history, how they would react in a situation, they should know their look and mannerisms down to the smallest facial tick. Yet all of this need not be revealed to the reader. — Aaron Miles
When you are writing a story there tends to be three things that people tend to consider first: the plot, the characters, and the setting. Now, the ideas for these things come in different orders, and sometimes you don’t even need to know them all when you start writing (although from my experience it does help).
However, there is going to come a time when you need to figure out more about your characters, and that can be a daunting experience. There is so much that needs to be learned about this character.
Where to begin though? Should I start by finding out what they look like? Or should I find out there backstory? Or their favorite book? Or something completely different?
For some people having so many options of where to begin can be exhilarating, if so this post is not for you, this post is for those who are a little less sure of where they should begin. I know how you feel. There are times that we all feel overwhelmed by all the options that we have.
So here I would like to share a few of the resources that I use to make my characters come to life. I have put them as steps, but they really can be done in any order.
The first thing to do when figuring out a character is finding out what their name is. If you need help with that (or the character is absolutely refusing all of the names that you suggest) I find that this website is very helpful: Nameberry. Now I know that this is a site for baby names, but I don’t think that anyone has yet made a site just for characters’ names. If it is the last name that is causing all the trouble I have found that using a last name generator works surprisingly well. This one is my favorite.
This is sometimes the second step and sometimes it is in a completely different place, that is figuring out what your character looks like. Do they have dark skin or light? What color is their hair? Sometimes just thinking about it for a few minutes will make it come to you, if not, I am not sure what to suggest. In some ways this is the hardest part of figuring out a character for me. This part of figuring out a character is not always necessary, for some characters you just know instinctively what they look like, and sometimes it is just not important for the story.
Now that the outside is taken care of there are other things to consider. Their family. Their favorite color. Their age. Some like to write about these things without any structure hoping that they will hit upon what they need to know, I am not one of those people; I like to have structure in planning my characters. Here are two different sheets of questions that you can figure out about your characters: This one is shorter, and this one is for when you have a lot of time. I tend to use the first one, just because it is shorter, but they are both wonderful ways to start on a journey of discovering your characters.
Backstory tends to be a place where people get stuck. They seem to think that they need to tell exactly what happened to this character before they can write about them. But this is not necessary! As long as you have a rough idea of this character’s backstory, you have more than I did when I started writing about some of my characters.
These are the four main parts of figuring out a character (at least, when I am the one figuring out the character). The characters are one of the most important parts of a story. They what the reader will identify with, they are what the reader will feel sorry for, they are what will keep a reader reading. So, no pressure.