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How do you design your main characters?


Personally, I don't find filling out a questionnaire very helpful. I prefer to start with a blank page (or several) and brainstorm by considering various characteristics and personality types I find interesting. These might come from friends or even myself, or I might like a certain thing about another writer's character and decide to borrow it, mixing it with different things I like or envision and creating a new character.

As for how deep, I currently am beginning a series and I am mainly in the first stages: creating a map, brainstorming on characters, deciding where I want to go plot wise. However, I already know that I want to make my characters as complex and multifaceted as possible. I will have politics, personal feelings, personal background, etc tie in. Essentially, I hope to create characters as complex as those in GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire.


New Member
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 like to start with Jungian archetypes. This is the basis for every type of human being as well as the gods of ancient Rome and Greece.

You may want to check a really good book 45 Master Characters.


I create my main characters (hero and villain) by deciding what characteristics they need for the story, then create the background as to why they have these traits. Then add a few quirks, maybe a phobia.
Enough heroic qualities to get the job done, but enough human qualities to make them believable.

I use a character questionaire to fill in the blanks, make sure you have more then enough information of the character then you will ever need.
I feel this helps prevent contridictions when writing.


I take my biggest protagonist and antagonist characters and write up detailed character exploration sheets for them. I lay out their physical attributes, their strengths, their weaknesses, what drives them, what they fear, their religion - anything that may come up in a story. I don't ever want to guess or throw something random into a character because I may accidentally contradict myself by doing so. The last thing I want to do is make a reader scoff at my ineptitude.

Thus far, I've found that laying out as many character traits as possible - up front and immediately - can really go a long way toward giving your characters that "real" feeling. A character with as many weaknesses as strengths will definitely reach out to a reader far better than a perfect character or even a character who has no strengths and is just a weak little gimmick of a plot device.


I hate character questionaires. An author on that video Twook00 linked called the character questionaire a rap sheet, which is exactly how it feels to me. I don't make a rap sheet, a résumé, a Facebook profile, or D&D stats for my character. When I get to know people, I don't ask about their favorite colors or if they can successfully disarm traps. I ask what they do, what their family is like, where they're from and what that place is like, how they spend their spare time. It's similar for my characters.

I don't think of it as designing a character since that conjures up a more visual or compartmentalized approach. I rely on hunches and assumptions to form an impression of a person. It's like reading someone's body language or interpreting the tone of their voice.

A starting point is necessary for me, but once I have that I can play a mental game where there's a chain of impressions, one thing leading to another until I've formed a fuller picture. Sometimes I get a vision of a person, sometimes I hear fragments of dialogue in my head. The mood tells me as much as what's seen or said. After that, the motivations and reactions are key to my understanding of the person. Once I get the central character, the other characters spring up naturally as a reaction to that personality, the setting, and the story.

I do have some tricks to begin a character when nothing has come to me:

  • Base the personality on a name. The name isn't meant to match the personality (because I hate that), but the name is a clue. I make assumptions based on it and go from there.

  • Use a quirk or habit to grow a character. I pick one quirk and go from there. My character might avoid the number 8. She might collect Betty Boop memorabilia. She might have an overactive imagination.

  • Give him an important memory. What's his most memorable success or failure? What's a small thing that had a big impact on him? His best or worst memory? Then I explore nuances of how he feels about that memory. It helps me know what kind of person he is and what's important to him. (I use this to know a character better, but I don't include it in the actual story.)

  • Base the character on a contradiction or a pair of unusual traits. I like mixing positive and negative traits, like someone who is both deceptive and charitable. I can have someone who is smarmy yet uses self-deprecating humor and reveal that in the dialogue.
I read a book on writing where the author recommended free-writing about a character. I think that would also be an effective way to discover or grow a character. Just free-write everything you can about a person until you uncover who they are.

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

This is very interesting. I didn't see many people touch on it.

I have a good handle and the whys of what my characters do. I know at least twice as much as what goes into the story. There are a few reasons for that. It makes putting their personalities on paper easier, and it makes their actions consistent. I believe it makes the characters more real to hint that they existed outside the story. I'm sure I'd know more about the characters if I wrote novels. Because I write short stories, I only need to know characters well enough to say, with authority, what brought them to this point and what they'll do during the span of a few thousand words.

For the how, I'd say dialogue is a great way to clue readers in because it naturally has layers and nuances. You can also have the character act in ways that show his trait(s) when it's relevant to the story and moves the story forward.

Mostly, the character's depth is a foundation for his personality and motivations. If the character is solid, the depth comes through in the choices he makes and his reasons for making them. It comes through in his interactions. I wouldn't forcibly incorporate things into the portrayal because the reader doesn't need to know as much as you do.

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
One thing my writing partner and I do with our characters to flesh them out a bit is to do a LOT of role-play with them. Random conversations, observations, and interactions - it must make listening to us in the grocery store entertaining! But we find it helps us to find that character's voice much more easily. I also tend to keep character sheets in Microsoft OneNote, so I have details about physical description and littel quirks and foibles within easy reach, so that I don't have my character have blue eyes in Chapter 2 and brown in Chapter 33.


I never knew people used such mechanical methods for creating some characters. In a way, it makes sense as I've read stories where each characters reads like they were cobbled together from Mad-Libs.

The characters I write about- not saying it is a right way or a wrong way, just a way- tend to evolve from the story. Take a base character and then, working them through the plot and situations in my head, I start to think how the character will react. Through their actions, their personality starts to come through. In that way, the story begets the character rather than the other way around.

For some stories I've read, you feel like the characters you're reading are basically setup on the first page they're introduced. Strong, confident but noble male character or meek but truly powerful female character. You know, after that, how they'll act in every situation that comes up because they'll do what best fits their given attributes. In that way, the character merely goes through the story fulfilling their already set description instead of letting the plot reveal them in a far more natural way. So you get to know the character instead of just reaffirming what you were told.

To put it another way, similar to something someone said earlier in the thread, when you interview someone fora job and you glance over their resume they'll call themselves 'smart, motivated, courteous' but then after you have them on the job for a few weeks you realize a more honest header would have been 'paste-eater, late, gives off bad odor'. Let the story set your characters up rather than the other way around.

Those are just my two cents on the matter.


What happens to me a lot is ill think of a voice, just a simple voice. Ill then create an image of a person who would posses that kind of voice. Ill then do a very rough sketch. Ill then have my little brother have a look at the sketch and then flesh it out, he is a way better artist. Withen a day or two he will give me his drawing.

I will lay on my bed for a long time staring at the picture, jotting down quick notes in my noyebook about the personality of the person I'm looking at. I will continue to tweak the personality until I think it fits. I go as deep as I possably can with all my creations. Depth brings realism I believe.


When I design a character, first and foremost, I pick a name. Not just any name, but a meaningful ones and work it out from there with the help of my world-building data. For example, lets start with my story main character Arya Seta (born Brajantali Buana):

> "Brajantali Buana" roughly translate to "Champion Farmer of Earth". This gives me a background: His parents comes from an agricultural background and hoped that their son would be the same.

> From the background, I get some personality: Coming from an farmer family, Arya is a simple man who values pragmatism with no patience for the cryptic and the unpractical.

> Also from the name, I get where's he's from and how he looked: He's Matramanian--who is on average a shortish (~169 cm)--and his skin is dark brown (from all the working outside). He wear the clothes appropriate to his social class, which I referenced to look this minus the head gear and the belt with slightly shorter trousers and sleeves.

> "Arya Seta" is his second name and the name of a great weapon master in the past. According to my world-building, a man from his particular cultural background can gain a second name once he finished a martial art training. Then I part part of his appearance: he must have some scars on his body and hands from his training.

> From these background, I got another part of his appearance: His hair is short, since he don't want it to be grabbed in a fight.

With these, I got all the basic down and can fill in the blanks by writing a few short "Experimental" stories to really simulate how he will react/interact with his surrounding and other character with certain personality. I also draw how he would actually look like and various facial expressions just to solidify his image in my head.
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For some stories I've read, you feel like the characters you're reading are basically setup on the first page they're introduced. Strong, confident but noble male character or meek but truly powerful female character. You know, after that, how they'll act in every situation that comes up because they'll do what best fits their given attributes.
I suspect whatever writers do this suffer from an excessive tell-to-show ratio. Are they showing those characters' attributes through actions and dialogue or simply describing them?

Right now I'm experimenting with a similar method to the one you described. I let the characterization evolve from the story's twists and turns as I outline or write.

Jess A

Lately I've been fleshing out my characters by writing short stories about their past. It helps me to plot and work out the time line, and it also helps define some motives. I then develop the character further as I write the actual book and as they go through the conflicts I toss at them.

It does help to have some basic information - a paragraph or two on their traits, histories, motives, connections to other characters (such and such's daughter, relation to the King, what land they own, who they serve). Sometimes a list of traits helps, because I might forget certain things like age or the name of a family member (if it goes into the book).

Too much defining and I lose interest. ;) Sometimes my characters seem to choose their actions rather than me - it's a strange thing.
One word: Neimology

The science of names, the letters mean things and dictate how a character acts and thinks. This applies from the pet you have to the deities you create.

I paid $24.95 for my print edition and another $10 for the ebook version because it is far too important. Whenever a character tells me a name, I can create an entire world around them just by their letters.