Creating Fictional Characters—Part 5: Developing Background and Traits Using a Character Chart, Bio, Diary, or Interview

Uncanny AnneIn previous installments in this series, we’ve talked about what the author needs to know about her characters. You should know things about your characters that you don’t necessarily reveal directly to readers—things that cause the character to behave the way he does. In some cases, you will show, not tell, your readers. In some cases, you will use the information to know what the character will do and to understand why.

Some important elements the writer needs to know about main characters that won’t always be told to readers (in no particular order):

  • Appearance
  • Lifestyle/Possessions
  • Self-concept
  • Relationships
  • Habits
  • Beliefs
  • Traits
  • Memories and feelings
  • Motivation and goals

Writers use a variety of methods to define characters.  Some of the most popular include:

  • Character chart: a chart that lists important information about the character, ranging from physical appearance to defining moments in the character’s life. Examples of character charts can be found at
  • Bio: a narrative of past including every important year and event or a variation, a slice of life, as a typical day. For examples, see
    • Poewar—10 Days of Character Building: Biography
    • Building a Character Biography
    • Poewar—10 Days of Character Building: A Day in the Life
  • Diary: the character’s own thoughts. For ideas on using diary/journal entries to create characters, see
  • Interview: ask questions of your character and/or the people around them.
    • For ideas, read
      • Poewar—10 Days of Character Building: Interview
      • Poewar—10 Days of Character Building: Building a Character Using Multiple Perspectives
    • Sample questions to ask your character
      • What one thing in your childhood made the biggest impression on your or influenced you the most?
      • Who was the most important person in your life in your childhood? Who is the most important person in your life now?
      • What is your favorite color, TV show, book, leisure-time activity, possession, music, food…?
      • What is your job and how did you come to do that?
      • What is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? The best?
      • Do you have a religious faith? If so, how important is it to you? What is your attitude toward religion?
      • What do you do best? What would like to do well that you can’t?
      • What is your earliest memory from your childhood?
      • How would you describe your family and childhood? Your present relationships? Previous relationships?
      • If you could do anything you wanted for the next month, what would you do? Who would you do it with?
      • Where did you go to school? How far did you go in school? How did you feel about school?
      • What are your hobbies? How did these come about?
      • If you could change 3 things in your life or about yourself, what would they be?
    • Sample questions to ask other characters about your character
      • How would you describe Character in one sentence?
      • What do you like best about this person? Least? Admire most? Least?
      • What is his strongest character trait? Weakest?
  • Act the part: This idea came from a comment on an earlier post in this series. David at Birmingham Accountant wrote:

I’m a bit of a ‘method actor’ when I’m creating characters. I’ll step into their world for a day or so and try to behave, react and speak just like my character. Really helps me get under their skin to see how they’d behave in a variety of situations.

How do you get to know your characters? Do you use a character chart, bio, interview, or diary? Do you put yourself in the role of character?

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheeErin

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