How Not to Fail in Developing a Fictional Character – Basic Checklist

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Welcome back to the Developing a Fictional Character series, this is the final chapter (see what I did there?) of the series, my final word of advice regarding fictional characters.

Now that you’ve been through the types of a fictional character, its elements and the ways you can upgrade your character and make it more alive by making it vulnerable, it’s time for the final checklist.

I would like to finalize this series on a note about making fictional characters alive in the reader’s mind. One thing that can help with this is creating a profile of a fictional character that will make the author feel as if the character is more realistic and help with the storyline flow.

For instance, many authors out there will tell you that they had only a speck of idea when they started creating their character and that they “grew along the storyline”. However, many young authors can’t begin to imagine what it’s like and they often think those who can build their characters along the way have some magical powers.

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So what’s the catch in Developing a Fictional Character?

I must admit I belong to those who can make them grow while the story develops, and let me tell you, there’s no magic involved. It’s just that I “feel” my characters more and I can connect with them on a deeper level. Also, I think a lot about my characters and I keep them all in my head all the time, (sometimes I speak to them or ask myself what would my character do in this situation, which helps deepen it), which might seem tiresome to some people, but that’s the only way for me not to make a mistake when starting to write a novel and devote my time to developing a fictional character.

Sometimes Developing a Fictional Character is a burden.

At any given moment, I must know how my character feels like and if I don’t keep it in my mind, my character won’t be consistent. This also has to do with the fact that when I write, I write very fast, sometimes ten pages at a time, and I don’t want to interrupt my flow and look at the charts.

In case you have an obstacle in achieving this, here’s what can help you. It doesn’t mean that you will never feel the way I feel, it probably just takes some time and experience.

If you are building a world with many different characters, this can point you in the right direction if you get lost while writing.

Get your notes ready! This will take a while once you start.

Basic info for Developing a Fictional Character is number one:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Nationality
  • What is the economic status of his family when he was a child
  • On the other note, what is his economic status when he is adult
  • Where did he grow up
  • Where does he live now
  • What does he do for a living
  • How much does he earn
  • What are his talents and skills
  • If he has brothers and sisters, when was he born in comparison to them
  • Describe the relations with his family members
  • The relations with this spouse, if there is any
  • Describe the relations with his children, if there is any
  • What are the other important people in his life, describe the relations
  • What are his hobbies

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Physical characteristic checklist:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Race
  • Eye color
  • Hair color
  • Does he wear glasses or contacts
  • Skin color
  • Face shape
  • Facial characteristics
  • What clothes does he wear
  • Manners
  • Habits
  • General health – physical and mental
  • Does he have a favorite saying
  • The way he speaks
  • Does he have limitations
  • Style
  • Biggest flaw
  • Biggest fine point

Personal/intellectual traits checklist:

  • Education level
  • IQ level
  • Does he have any mental disorders
  • Experiences
  • Short term life goals
  • Long term life goals
  • How does the character see himself
  • How does the character believe others see him
  • Confidence level
  • Is he logical, emotional or combined
  • What would make him ashamed

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Emotional characteristic checklist:

  • Is he an introvert or extrovert
  • How does he deal with anger, sadness, conflicts, changes
  • How does he deal with the loss
  • What does he want out of life
  • Is there something he would like to change and can he change it
  • Motivation
  • Fears
  • What makes him happy
  • Is he judgmental
  • Generous
  • Is he kind

Spiritual characteristic checklist:

  • Is he religious
  • What does he believe in
  • Is religion or spirituality an important part of his life
  • If so, what role does it have
  • Fictional character involvement in the storyline:
  • Is he the main character
  • What’s his entrance like

Describe relations with other important characters.

One more thing – in trying to make your character alive, make sure you don’t reveal all of his traits at once! Just like in life, where we slowly discover people’s motives and needs, fears and desires, in literature we must aim at slowing down and letting the reader decide how fast he/she will discover the characters. Remember that there is no rush for you, the only one who can hurry is the reader with turning the pages of your book.

To achieve this, place your character in situations that will slowly reveal him/her.

Oftentimes you can even omit the complete description by just mentioning the most prominent feature. Also, the way you mention that feature can challenge the reader to skip sleeping that night and finish your book.

You also don’t have to showcase a complete above list every time your character shows. Pick a few traits which will resurface depending on the situation. For example, let’s say your character is a long-haired young man with severe social anxiety, doesn’t drive and is prone to night walks while listening to music on his headphones. You already introduced him, but later in the book, you can simply say:

“She was hurrying up, pausing from her graveyard shift to grab something to eat. The night was a peaceful one and while she sat in her car, waiting for the red light to change, she wondered what fast food place is still open. The light turned green and her phone beeped, the picture of her boyfriend popping up. When she looked back on the street, a young man was in front of her car, obviously deaf, with his hands in his pocket and his hair in a long ponytail. She pressed the brakes but he ignored the whole scene, calmly passing to the other side of the street while his light was red.”

We know he’s not obviously deaf, he’s just listening to loud music. We know he has social anxiety, and we now wonder whether he will meet “her” again and if she will recognize him as “the guy I almost hit”. Will she cheat her boyfriend with him? Will he beat his social anxiety with her? Maybe they will need to work together but she can’t stand him being awkward?

Writing is a play, and the more you play with your imagination and freedom, the better it becomes.

BONUS master list of facial expressions

Developing a Fictional Character

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