Understanding Your Characters

Creating believable characters means creating characters who have their own motives, fears, hopes and beliefs. To do that, you must understand them.

Group silhouette by Mario Purisic

For me, the love for a character comes from the ability to understand and relate to them. I might not relate to an evil murderer but if I can understand what’s driving them to act, I’ll be much more interested and invested in them.

What makes an interesting character? Flaws. Imperfections. Humanity — or the lack of it.

Behind it all lies one question: why?

Think about a recent situation that’s caused you to react strongly. It doesn’t have to be big or grand or highly unusual. Maybe a stranger complimented you and that totally made your week? Maybe someone was extremely rude and you gave them a piece of your mind?

Remember your own reaction and then try to figure out how each of your (main) characters would react — and why.

Don’t settle with “that’s just how they do it.” Challenge yourself. Challenge your character.

If your character stays silent when someone’s being rude, is it because they’re afraid of conflict or because they think they’re above such foolishness? Does your character accept a compliment with a smile or become very self-conscious because they’ve been picked on in the past?

As you delve deeper into their minds, you’ll begin to understand their past and how it affects their future. Not every character has a dark, twisted past. Not every character has one defining moment. But every character has a past and that past needs to show, or you run the risk of creating one-dimensional and even boring characters. Finding out these little things can also help you guide the story to a meaningful resolution.

Maybe your character learns to accept that sometimes conflict is necessary and will be able to stand up for themselves — and their friends — by the end of the story. Maybe the character who couldn’t take a compliment insults someone with their mistrust and creates a whole new plot point to solve.



Create a questionnaire to go through with your characters. Include a few daily situations, a few uncommon ones and then a couple of rare occasions that will draw a reaction from just about anyone.

And there are tons of questionnaires online! If they’re aimed at “real” people instead of “fictional” characters, all the better.

I’m all in for character questionnaires and sheets, but sometimes they just don’t cut it. It’s good to have the basics down (Who was your mother? What was your first home like? Who’s your best friend?) but for character interactions it’ll be much more interesting to ponder on what the character would do if their first home got destroyed in a fire or if their best friend refused to pay back a debt.

Little by little you’ll understand your characters more and your writing gets more fluent. You’ll probably never know them thoroughly, but that’s part of the fun! We want our characters to surprise us but for them to do that, they first need a solid personality.

And who knows? Maybe one day your plot is in a complete dead-end and you see no way out. Then you realize what exactly your character would do in the situation and you’re good to go once again!

Go on, try it!

What’s the worst you could discover?

So, tell me. What’s the worst thing you’ve discovered about your character?

Do you ever stop in your daily life to think about how your character would react in your shoes?



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