How to Write a Book: Character Development Questions

This list of character development questions is part of my How to Write a Book series documenting all the steps I take in writing a book I'm currently working on. Consider it a bonus resource if you've just read my post on character development and would like a little help getting started with building your characters yourself. 

Alternatively, if you'd like to go back a few steps, the first part of this How to Write a Book series tackled coming up with a story idea, the second part was all about story development, and the third part about writing a story outline. Be sure to check out this tag to find all the posts in this series, and you can find lots of other general writing advice on my blog.

Your Ultimate Character Development Questionnaire

Welcome to a special list of character development questions that are designed to give you a place to start in building a strong profile for your main character/s in a novel, short story or other work of fiction you're writing or working on.

As my post on character development states, you don't need to answer all the questions (and indeed it may be in advisable not to do so) and there are many other ways to do character development or building, but consider these somewhere to start if you've never done character development before and/or you feel you need a good point of reference for who your characters really are, and for all the information about your character/s that you may need to refer to as you write your first (and second and third and so on.... ) draft.

My best advice, if you haven't already, is to read this post on character development first so you have a rough idea of what it is, what it isn't, and how there is no one perfect way to do character development. As with all stages of writing a book, you should only do what works best for you and I always recommend finding your own way if something isn't working. You also don't have to do any character development.

As has previously been the case for me, I've often written short stories and first drafts of novels without any character development (other than a few pages of notes or a couple of pinned images just so I have a consistent point of reference on physical appearance or on a pivotal event in their past). You can read my reasons why I chose to do character development this time in the post.

So now, over to the character development questions. There are over different questions listed below that are mostly generic as opposed to specific to any given plot or theme that may appear in your story.

Personally, I answered around 60% of these questions for my own character development so I hope that emphasises how you really don't need to have answers to every single possible question about your character. Not only is it likely that some of these topics not relevant to your character or the story you're writing, but they could even be distracting or confusing for you to think about, so don't be afraid to be selective!

As I mention in this post on how I built a profile for my main character, I highly recommend you also come up with additional questions that challenge you to think about your character's personality and behaviour in relation to the main themes your book will potentially tackle as this will also help you prepare to write the book itself as you'll be thinking about how your character would react to certain events or behave in a certain scenario.

Now go have some fun building and developing your characters!

Your Character's Essential Information

  1. Full Name?
  2. Nicknames?
  3. Gender?
  4. Age / Date of Birth?
  5. Address? (You can list as many as required for various stages of your novel or just list the one for the beginning of the novel or before action begins)
  6. Profession?
  7. Family / Marital Status? (As above, if this changes during the novel itself you can document the changes here in your character development or you can just state what the status is for the beginning of the novel.)

Your Character's Physical Appearance

What does your character look like? (Find an image if you can't put it all in words! Use Google Images or Pinterest to search!

Now think about all of the following when answering this question about their face, or break it down into answering them individually:

  1. Skin colour? What is their ethnic heritage?
  2. Eye colour? Do they wear glasses? Hair colour, style and length? Do they dye their hair or spend a lot of money and time styling it?
  3. What shape face do they have?
  4. What kind of skin do they have? (Freckles? Dry? Spotty? Birthmarks?)
  5. What are their other features like? Ears? Nose? Chin? Forehead? Eyebrows? Eyelashes?
  6. Do they have any sight or hearing impairments?
  7. Do they need to wear glasses or contact lenses?
  8. Do they have any scars or birth marks on their face?
  9. Now think about their body. Does your character have any scars or birthmarks on their body?
  10. Are they physically disabled in anyway?
  11. Do they have any invisible disabilities or chronic illnesses?
  12. How tall is your character?
  13. What's their body shape? Weight? (Again you can find an image that answers this question very quickly!)
  14. What kind of clothes do they wear? 
  15. How do they feel about their body and physical appearance? Have they always felt this way?

Your Characters Personality

  1. Using only adjectives, describe your character's personality in five words.
  2. Is your character an introvert or an extrovert?
  3. What makes your character happy?
  4. What makes your character sad?
  5. Does your character have a strong sense of self? Are they proud of who they are?
  6. Is your character susceptible to stress? Anxiety? Low moods? 
  7. Does your character struggle with any mental health problems? Have they in the past?
  8. What are your character's biggest strengths? Are they aware of them?
  9. What are your character's weaknesses? Are they aware of them?

Your Character's Emotional Well-Being

  1. Is your character an emotional person?
  2. Would you describe your character as empathic? Are they too empathic?
  3. How does your character feel about their emotions or emotional reactions in general?
  4. Does your character cry often?
  5. What is your character afraid of?
  6. What does your character do to make themselves feel better?
  7. Does your character have any big regrets?
  8. Are their events in your character's past that they won't talk about?
  9. Has your character ever had therapy?

Your Character's Spiritual Make-Up

  1. What is really important to your character, in terms of what they seek in life, work, other people and their relationships?
  2. Does your character have any strong personal, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs?
  3. Does your character have strong opinions?
  4. Does your character practice a religion?
  5. Did your character stop practicing a religion? What's the story there?
  6. What newspapers or media does your character read regularly?
  7. Describe their relationship with social media?
  8. What are the main influences on your character's way of thinking?

Your Character's Work Life

  1. Does your character have a job? What is it?
  2. How much money do they earn? Are they happy about this?
  3. How many hours a day/week does your character work? 
  4. Do they take their work home with them?
  5. What's their professional and/or educational background?
  6. Is your character's job what they really want to be doing? What's their dream job?
  7. Are they doing any training or studying?
  8. What's your character's work ethic?
  9. Describe the company that your character works for? What about the people? 
  10. Is your character happy with their work-life balance?

Your Character's Home

  1. Where does your character live? (Be as specific - an address! - or as vague as you wish!)
  2. What kind of a dwelling is it? (Again this can be answered with images!)
  3. Who does your character live with?
  4. Is your character happy with their living situation?
  5. Does your character have a lot of personal possessions?
  6. Is your character a homely person?
  7. Does your character take pride in where they live?
  8. What would your character change about their home or living situation?

Your Character's Family

Brainstorm and draw out a quick family tree for your character, or answer the following questions leaving as much or as little detail as you wish to.

  1. Describe your character's parents (if known) including their names, ages, physical appearances, professions, personalities and relationships with your character.
  2. Is your character adopted? Do they know their biological parents?
  3. Does your character have any siblings? What are their relationships like?
  4. Does your character have a significant other (or others!)? Are they married? Have they ever been divorced or separated from another long-term partner?
  5. Does your character have children? Describe them.
  6. Are there any other people in their extended family that are relevant to your story? Describe them and their connection to the story and your character?
  7. How does your character feel about their family? Who are they especially close to? Who are they not close to? Why?

Your Character's Social Life

  1. Is your character a sociable person? Do they have many friends and a busy social life?
  2. Who are some of your character's closest friends? Can you provide brief descriptions of them?
  3. Does your character have a true one best friend? What's their story? How did they meet? Why are they so close?
  4. Has your friend lost touch with any significant people? Why? How is it relevant to your story?
  5. Is your character a leader or a follower in social situations?
  6. Does your character enjoy socialising? How about professional networking?
  7. What kind of social events suit your character best?

Your Character's Romantic Relationships

  1. Is your character currently in a romantic relationship? What's the status of this relationship at the beginning, middle and end of the book?
  2. Describe how your character met their significant other?
  3. Are they married? What was the wedding like?
  4. What does your character have in common with the partner/s mentioned in the book?
  5. Is your character a romantic/sexual/affectionate person?
  6. What matters most to your character in their romantic relationships?

(You can also answer the physical description questions and some of the personality-based character development questions about their romantic partner/s if that would also help flesh out significant characters in the story you're writing.)

Your Character's Likes and Dislikes

  1. How does your character like to spend their spare time?
  2. What hobbies does your character enjoy doing regularly?
  3. What does your character do to relax?
  4. What sports or fitness activities (if any) does your character enjoy doing?
  5. What kind of music does your character listen to?
  6. What's their favourite art form/s (music/art/film/theatre/etc)?
  7. What would be your character's favourite book/film/TV show/album/radio station?
  8. Where would your character like to go on holiday? What kind of holiday would that be?
  9. What's your character's favourite food/drink?

Your Character's Background

  1. Did your character have a good childhood?
  2. Are their events in your character's past that fundamentally changed who they are as a person? For better or for worse?
  3. What are the biggest lessons that your character learned growing up?
  4. Does your character have any secrets from their past, recent or otherwise?
  5. When was your character happiest in life?
  6. Does your character have any regrets? 
  7. Which people in the past have been big influences on your character?

Your Character's Motives and Morals

  1. Does your character have a strong sense of morals? Do these change during the story you are writing?
  2. What values does your character hold above all others?
  3. Is your character an honest person? Do they have a strong sense of "right" and "wrong"?
  4. What motivates your character in general?
  5. What is your character's biggest motivation in the story you are writing?
  6. What does your character learn about themselves during the story you are writing?
  7. If you can, describe in just a few sentences the journey your character goes on during the story you're writing.

If you'd like to save these character development questions or share with other writers, here's an image you can pin:

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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