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How do you design your main characters?



Do you fill in some questionnaire or do you have an idea that you develop with plans on developing the idea further as the character develop?

How deep are your characters and what purpose does the depth served , and how do you incorporate this in his portrayal?


I’m assuming you mean main characters, or characters with a lot of spotlight? I’m going to go out on a limb here and answer with that impression in mind.

Firstly, start with their background. Each person in a story got there from birth, what has happened to your characters since before the story? What kind of environment did they grow up in? What skills have they developed in their lives?
Consider also, how has their lives shaped them as a person? If someone was from a wealthy background, has that given them cause to use that opportunity to better the world around them, or to be ungrateful and lack any appreciation regarding money value?

Consider both positive and negative influences on their lives. In tales, many characters have some kind of colourful back story. Has this back story caused them to be timid, shying away from risks and troubles, or have they grown a back bone (perhaps too much of a back bone) and face issues head on?

Consider both positive and negative influences on their lives. For example in one of my wips, one of the main characters is rubbish at sword fighting (even by beginners standard), but she is very good at researching. On a battlefield, she would be less than useless. She is definitely someone worth putting in a library.

On the other hand, I personally believe a character should grow in a story. How would they develop as you write? Do they have any ambitions for the future, or do they make the best of the situations they find themselves in?

As for appearance, don’t worry too much about that (unless it is essential to the story in some way). For me, I consider all the personalities and wants and needs of a character, and let my imagination give shape to the person as if I’m looking at him or her.

My best advice though, don’t fall into the trap of making your character completely awesome at everything. Give them weaknesses and faults. They could be a master swordsman, capable of many great deeds, but a disgustingly racist bigot for example. This would be a great way to create friction between characters.

As for your questionnaire method, I personally don’t use that one myself. However, after you form an idea for a character, why not fill out some questionnaires as if they were taking them? You could get some interesting results. There are plenty online (with the view to sell stuff), try a few and see what happens.



I'd start thinking of a general format of this character, a broad overview of who they are and who they were. Simple personality terms will suffice (ex. optimistic, pessimistic, cynical, etc.), just something to give you a good picture of what you want in this character. Give them a history. It can be ordinary (at least, ordinary enough until whatever happens to them that's probably important to the story itself) to depressingly tragic. Having a history helps shape how a person thinks and what their attitude towards the world is. A person with a good past will most likely have a positive outlook. A person with a bad past will most likely have a negative outlook. This already can shape how they interact with other people and their motives, etc.

If you're really desperate to think of a character, why not just use a roleplay character fill-out sheet? Name, age, gender, description, personality, history are just a few of the possibilities and gives you an organized way to plot your character. Of course, only use this if you don't have anything else to do.
For my epics, they develop pretty naturally, but for my short stories I made an excel file that randomly generates 12 ability scores (like strength, speed, agility, ego, motivation, etc) and also randomly generates gender and race. Then I write a quick background describing what is the first thing that comes to mind to explain some of the extreme variations in the ability scores.

I'm working on an excel file that also randomly generates jobs/professions, but I haven't gotten that far yet.
I'm a pretty visual writer, so I usually start with a mental image of the character I want. I'll typically use characters other people have created as templates for my own. Not out-right copies, just very general archetypes: "This story needs someone similar to that character. He or she should look kinda like this, and have this and that personality trait." Then I expand on their personalites and histories and motivations. A lot of it writes itself - characters is probably my strongest point a writer.

Sometimes it's enough to have something very basic to go by, like a picture. For one of my projects, I came up with most of the main cast from looking through a Tarot deck. Just looking at picture of a person lets me envision what kind of people they are and how I can use them.


I just try to make a character with a lot of conflict. A Priest who's losing faith, a Knight with no honor, a magician who has lost his power, so on. These small one-dimensional ideas will usually lead into further depth of the character through the question why. For some reason I've found it's easier to make a 'flaw', then build positive character traits. Also, these can be combined with plot ideas and further a characters internal/external conflict to match his/her/its surroundings.


I usually start with the plot. I expand on it and do some world-building. After the setting is established, I look at all the potential characters. I ask myself, "Who's the most interesting? Who can get the plot rolling? Who's the center of all this madness I created?" Then I pick a character. Name, gender, age. Family background, intelligence level. And like FatCat, I establish flaws. Flaws help making your hero more down to earth; more human. For example, in my WIP, my MC is wicked smart. She is a genius strategist. However, she's dumb when it comes to people as individuals. She greatly underestimates human emotion. Which is a definite issue.

That's how I design my main characters. Start off broad and narrow it down.


I don't think I have one way of doing it. It depends on how I'm writing the story, what seeded the idea, all sorts of things. But at the planning stage, or at least the point the character is created, I tend to have a very vague sense of who they are. I might have two or three traits - impatience, passion, bravery, that sort of thing - but mostly it grows from and influences the story. Often I make decisions on the fly, as I'm writing. So one of my characters is bicurious simply because I decided she has a crush on her friend. Another is a peasant who used to be a librarian but ran away to marry a woman from a socially oppressed group. So he's a romantic. But he stuck at it, so he's got a fairly flexible attitude.


Usually they start out as simple, likely one-dimensional characters for me. Depth is added throughout the writing process, though not just through writing. The best thing I've found is to just run your character through scenarios in your head. These don't have to be related to your story, nor do you need a specific time to do this. Bored on the train? See how you character would react to a similar situation. Going to sleep? Why not go dreaming of epic battles or gut wrenching conflict? Things like that.

Honestly, there's no set way. Sometimes you'll think of some past event that will influence the character and other times you'll work the opposite way, having a character trait and then 'realising' what made them that way.

There are questions you can answer and I can copy out the ones I've been given if you'd like, but they shouldn't be used (in my opinion) to develop a character from scratch. Rather, they're a useful resource to get your facts down on a piece of paper for easy reference, especially for side characters. I can remember my main's eye colour but I'd have no idea what the 12 sides look like.
Ashamed to admit it, but I start with costume. I draw and take notes to brainstorm, so my characters start as images. I give them an iconic appearance, and then work backwards to justify their costume choices.


I'll usually start with someone real in mind, then bend characteristics to fit them into my world or create more interesting stories.
I whip out a D&D character sheet (I'm serious), and I fill in stats from there. I list equipment and magic items that they might possibly carry, plus any baackground information that I think to be important,


I think of a scene or setting or series of events. Then I think of what kind of character would be most devastated (creating the most internal & external conflict)..... That character becomes a POV.


I think mine develop as I go but I start out with a plan.
SOmething I used to do when I ran RPGs was to make the players fill in a questionnaire to come up with some background more than "I am a dwarf, witch beard who drinks to much and drinks lots of ale."

Questions like- Do you have a family? How do you get on with them? - this gives you lots of nice background to use against them later;)

And harder ones:- what motivates you?
Would you die for your friends
Would you kill for your friends

Things like that. Gets a feel for the character:)


Usually when designing my protagonists, I take into account what sort of personality or behavioral characteristics might suit a character with a certain upbringing or occupation. For example, a fiery temper makes sense as a character flaw for a warrior, arrogance for a monarch, introversion for someone with autism or some other condition which makes them an outcast from society, etc.

Jess A

I start with a few basics. They change throughout the brainstorming and writing process. Some change dramatically and some mature. I look at inner conflict and flaws. I am also very visual so appearance is important to me when I am planning, though that detail may not necessarily get into the book unless it's relevant. I try to work out how they react in situations and around certain other people. I do this by writing. Sometimes the writing doesn't make it into the book. That's fine too - it might simply have been about development.

People watching is interesting and can help with characterisation, as well as reading widely. Knowing how people react to situations in real life can be gold when it comes to stories - for me, anyway. And what would it be like to sit down and have a coffee with my character? Would they annoy me, or would we get along? Some would certainly get on my nerves.

New characters appear by accident. They were minor characters, and then I decided they would make better major characters.
My characters typically start with a basic idea of either profession, motivation, or conflict. Once I have this basic template I then try and name them. This is not always the same name they will end with, but if I give them a name, then the character will start to develop, in my head, almost on their own. Once the development starts I try and put them in different situations, to see how they react. This is the courtship. The way they react tells me a lot about the character.

When I feel I know the character I drop them in the story and go from there. I use a basic outline for my stories, but I don't let the outline strictly dictate the characters reactions. My outlines are living documents that change as the story progresses.


For me, it's almost like fishing. I enter a state of deep, clear thought and look for something distinct, not unlike a shred of consciousness and work form there. Or, I "see" them. How they look like. Usually something triggers it, whether it be a sound or a completely unrelated picture. Movies do that often... I like to think "Wow, I bet a character would like that".