Introduction: How to Create a Fictional Character
This instructable explains a process through which a fictional character can be developed. Each writer is encouraged to test their imaginations and experiment within each step, but for simplicity’s sake a more basic human character (Tony Tasco) has been developed as a sample. To complete the development of your own fictional character, please print out the template provided and have access to a writing utensil and the Character Development Sample page.
Step 1: Character's Motivation
First, let’s consider the central driving force of your character. What does your character want most? What are they working towards in the story? Their goal interacts heavily with plot, and explains why your character is participating in the story. Also consider if that goal or motivation is static or progressive. Will the original motivation remain constant, or will it fundamentally shift during the story?
Refer to the “Motivation” section of the Character Development Sample page. Tony Tasco’s motivation is to find and eat a taco. This goal remains constant throughout the story, giving him static motivation. Tony now has a goal, the driving force of the plot. The motivation of finding a taco has been written down and given a visual representation.
Now, refer to the “Motivation” section of the Character Development Template page. Create a motivation for your own original character, and sketch a visual representation.
Step 2: Character's History
Now consider your character’s backstory. Why do they have the motivation from Step 1 that they do? This gives your character a reason for their reason, so to speak. Decide what will shape a character from their past, whether it be from their childhood or more recent events. This causes a reader to better understand a character and become more invested in the character’s goal. Keep in mind though, that too much backstory may hinder the plot of the novel from moving forward. Be as thorough as you’d like in your character’s history, but don’t feel you must share it all with the reader. In developing a backstory, consider family members, the culture your character grew up in, their current age and status, etc.
Refer to the “History” section of the Character Development Sample page. The specific situation in Tony Tasco’s life that motivated him to desperately want to eat tacos is that his overprotective parents never let him eat a taco when he was younger, due to his rapid teeth loss where he started to loose adult teeth as well. Now, as an adult, Tony no longer wants to be deprived of eating tacos.
Now, refer to the “History” section of the Character Development Template page and complete it in the same manner as the “Motivation” section.
Step 3: Character's Traits
Next, consider your character’s physical and personality traits. What is the appearance, attitude, and morality of your character? Appearance can be as simple as body shape, eye color, hair color, etc. Personality addresses the attitude of your character, which is reflected in their habits. Morality and philosophy can focus on the overall outlook of your character, and whether the reader will perceive them as good, evil, or somewhere inbetween.
While the sample provides simpler descriptions, don’t be afraid to get as creative as you please! For example, don’t just give eye color but describe the mascara smudged under their eyes, or go beyond what clothes they’re wearing to whether or not they are finely pressed, or if they are a wrinkled mess.
Refer to the “Traits” section of the Character Development Sample page. Tony Tasco is obsessed with tacos, and it shows. He has dark hair like taco meat, and green eyes like lettuce. He loves puns and wears a taco shirt underneath his clothes so he can always keep some version of tacos close to his heart. He also has a serious tendency to slouch and has a particularly loud laugh. Tony is very patient and loving, but is suspicious of anyone who doesn’t like to eat tacos.
Refer to the “Traits” section of the Character Development Template page and complete it in the same manner as the other sections.
Step 4: Character's Strengths
Consider your character’s strengths. What makes your character able to achieve their goal? What about them will help them throughout the plot, and why do they have these tools or abilities? Some strengths may be closely tied with the identity of the character itself, and some strengths may not be developed or fully realized until later in the plot.
Refer to the “Strengths” section of the Character Development Sample page. Tony Tasco has incredible detective skills, and an especially strong sense of smell, allowing him to smell tacos from miles away. His patience and determination in waiting until adulthood to find and eat a taco has given Tony increible perseverance in terms of his goal.
Refer to the “Strengths” section of the Character Development Template page and complete is in the same manner as the other sections.
Step 5: Character's Weaknesses
On the flip side, no one is perfect, so consider your character’s weaknesses. What about your character is preventing them from achieving their goal? What is their Achilles’ heel, or fatal flaw? Character flaws often work with other traits in unexpected ways to make characters interesting and relatable to the reader. Often there is a connection between a character’s main strength and weakness.
Refer to the “Weaknesses” section of the Character Development Sample page. Tony Tasco battled with losing his adult teeth even as a young child, which is why his parents prevented him from eating tacos. This weakness prevents him from eating tacos, yet his struggles during childhood also helped to build Tony’s patience and perseverance, one of his main strengths. The flaw Tony will have to overcome is stubborness. In his determination to get a taco, Tony has tried to do everything himself, but will have to reach out for help if he is to get advice on how to eat a taco once he acquires one.
Refer to the “Weaknesses” section of the Character Development Template page and complete is in the same manner as the other sections.
Step 6: Character's Ultimate Development
Finally, think about your character’s ultimate development. How will the character grow throughout the story, and where do you want that growth to take them? How can you identify what makes them different at the end, as compared to the beginning? Consider lessons your character will learn, and how those lessons affect them.
Refer to the “Ultimate Development” section of the Character Development Sample page. Tony Tasco eventually finds a taco, but has to ask for help on how to eat it. He learns from his local dentist about dentures, allowing Tony to finally eat a taco. Having achieved his goal of eating a taco, Tony Tasco settles down and opens his own taco stand to help spread his love for tacos all across the world.
Refer to the “Ultimate Development” section of the Character Development Template page and complete is in the same manner as the other sections.
Step 7: Congratulations!
If there are any other aspects of the character you would like to address, feel free to do so in the “Additional Notes” section on the bottom of your template page. Congratulations on developing your fictional character- don't forget to name them!
Want to take the next step? Learn how to actually write your fictional character by using the following resources:
- Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
- Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine