Character Creation/Printable version

Character Creation

The current, editable version of this book is available in Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection, at

Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Character background

This section covers the creation of the character's background. The background is essential, even if it is not actually detailed in the story. As well as making the character more interesting and adding depth to the story, the author uses the background to ensure the character's behaviour remains consistent. For example, in one scene a character may take the stairs instead of the lift and consequently become involved in a situation. Earlier in the story the character may have used the lift and the reader will spot the inconsistency. But if the author has written up the background and stated that the character is claustrophobic, then they are less likely to forget that the character wouldn't use a lift.

The basics


Start out with writing down some of the basic facts:

  • Is your character male, female, neuter (say, a computer intelligence) or something of your own invention?
  • Where was your character born?
  • How old are they?
  • What is their current job?
  • What are their interests outside their job?
  • Who do they love? And who did they used to love?
  • Who are their enemies and friends?



Now think about the character's heritage. Is your character Irish, German, African-American or from a made-up place? Make sure you try to bring out your character's heritage in their actions. Use the way they pronounce things, and how they feel about things to flag up their background. It is good practice to make your character with many different heritages, that way it will seem more realistic as real people have many different heritages in their history.

Your character's heritage (and current nationality) can affect other aspects of the character. For instance, if Brian is from Ireland, he will probably speak with an Irish accent, and be light skinned, and likely has a lot of freckles. Sancho, conversely, who is from Mexico, would speak with a Mexican accent, is probably dark skinned, and is treated differently by people than Brian.

But equally you should strive to avoid the stereotypes - Germans aren't all taciturn and humourless, Italians aren't all frivolous and amorous. Sometimes doing the opposite of the stereotypical view will surprise and interest your reader. How about a teetotal Australian?

Don't be afraid to try something original when creating a character. How about a character from the Côte d'Ivoire, even if it necessitates some research on that country?

When the heritage is made-up, for example your character is an alien, then you will have to work much harder to explain to the reader how their heritage affects their behaviour.

Empathise, don't sympathise


You need to understand why your character behaves the way they do. Don't give them motivations that you can't understand — because then you won't be able to write effectively about them. On the other hand, don't sympathise. If you find yourself feeling sorry for the character you'll be tempted to lessen the problems the character faces which will weaken the story.



Very few real people are monomaniacs. Your character should have things that drive them and things that repel them - but there should be more than one. Nobody is just a homicidal killer, nobody is just a mother caring for her children. For your character to feel real they must have enough traits to make the reader feel the person is more than just a caricature.



The name of the character is important as names can have particular associations in certain cultures. For example, names like Adolf, Jesus and Mohamed immediately conjure an image of the real person with that name. It is usually best to choose the name last after the character is fully defined. This prevents you, the author, from creating a stereotype. Of course, these preconceptions can be useful ways of misleading the reader - naming a character who will sacrifice his life for others "Adolf" may trick the reader and create a strong surprise.

Character personality

Is your character mean, nice, stupid? That can be determined all by their personality...

Personality mix


Most characters have three personalities. The first two mixed together to make their main personality, and the third one arising when danger is near, e. g. Character number one's main personality is a mix of harshness and intelligence, while in a dangerous situation he would be brave.

Sometimes there are a characters with four personality types, the first three being their main personality, and the fourth appearing what they face danger (the personalities could be split so that the third and fourth are displayed when danger arises).

Character appearance

The appearance of a character is important, but remember as a writer you are describing the appearance and much will be left to the readers' imagination. Of course, if you are writing for film or television or for a visual work like a comic book, then appearance becomes more important.

Physical attributes


You should decide the physical attributes of your character. At the least you should consider:

  • Height - are they tall, short, average?
  • Weight - are they overweight, underweight, average?
  • Skin tone and freckles, eye color
  • Distinguishing features - birthmarks, scars, tattoos
  • Hair color- brunette, blonde?
  • Hair length-short, long shoulder length?
  • Other- ethnicity (race), sexuality

Some of these attributes will be worked into the story early on to allow the reader to form an image of the character in their "minds eye". Others will be returned to as important plot devices. You should try to avoid the stereotypes - not all pirates have only one eye and have a false leg!

For aliens, physical attributes must be more detailed as the reader needs more help to picture the creature.



Think about the things your character carries and uses and whether any should be distinctive. Think of Doctor Who's sonic screwdriver, James Bond's Walther PPK, the Crocodile in Peter Pan's clock! These are all iconic accessories. People in real life tend to favor certain items and these items are part of how we recognize them and think of them. The glasses they wear, the type of watch they use, the jewellery they wear. Add accessories to shape your character. Are they fascinated with antiques? Give them a pocket watch instead of a wristwatch... Do they hanker after the past? Give them an old car like Morse had.



Clothing is usually more a plot point than part of characterization. Your character will have types of clothing they wear more frequently - smart or casual for example. However, they are likely to change their clothing during the story based on the requirements of the plot. A good example of when clothing is a strong part of character is Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where he wears a dressing gown and pajamas throughout the story. The difficulty with clothing is that it can very easily create a caricature.

Little details

Details are very important in character creation, they could make or break your character! There won't be tips on little details, since there can be so many, but there will be one thing: When planning details, be careful, they will change your character a lot!

For example, a reader can tell that a character is impatient if she taps her feet from time to time.

It is especially important for the characters to have little details as this makes the reader able to relate to them more. Let's take the antagonist for instance, say he's a mean, nasty, bloodthirsty man, that's alright but what makes him special? What makes him stand out in the sea of all other such people?

Maybe it's his love for roses or unrequited love from someone he has been chasing after or ability to create criminally beautiful art.

If we have a protagonist whom you've thoroughly ascertained is no Mary Sue, how do we give them a personal feel, it must be something that readers can relate to; perhaps he's reckless or likes to hang his coat on the third peg or only drinks a certain brand of tea.

As said above, little details can make or break a character however, do be sure not to overload your characters. Think of ordinary people then apply that to your works.