Character Development: How to Start - article

Great stories are populated with great characters. Book with three dimensional characters fly off the shelves, are placed on e-reader wish lists, and are bought on the first day they are released. Books with cardboard, stereotypical characters languish. You want to take time to extensively develop your characters, but how do you start?  

Collect Scrap
Scrap is a collection of photo reference to help visualize your characters. Snip pictures out of magazines, copy them out of books, and search for them on the internet. Some even buy old photos on sites like Ebay. Sometimes you might have to build a composite. Find the right eyes, nose, and hair color on a collection of faces. There are many databases available that offer royalty free photos. Try and as a place to get started. Collect visual images to help you describe your character perfectly.  

Choose a Name
Your character needs a unique name that fits the purpose of your story. Your name needs to be timely and relevant. If your character is contemporary, you don't want to choose a popular name from the 1950s. Think. A hipster has one name. A footballer has another. For American names the Social Security Administration's offers a database of baby names for any year past 1879. Whole websites are dedicated to the etymology and history of names. One for first names is For last names try the try the Internet Surname Database. There are books available with name lists too. An example is The Name Book: Over 10,000 Names, Their Meanings, Origins, and Spiritual Significance by Dorothy Astoria. Pick the perfect name. 

Fill Out a Worksheet
Many authors find a filling out character development surveys to be invaluable when developing characters. There are many available online to help you. Here is a link to a character development chart courtesy of PamelaDowd. com. Here is the link to another character development worksheet courtesy of There are more extensive surveys available too. Working through Darcy Pattison's 15 Days to Stronger Characters may help you out. Explore your character in depth.

Take a Quiz
Understanding your character's personality is a big piece of development. There are numerous free personality quizzes available online. Pretend to be your character and take one to get insight into your character's personality. Free tests are available from Enneagram Institute. More free tests are available at There are also many personality quiz books available. What Type Am I? Discover Who You Really Are by Renee Barton is an example. Uncover your character's personality.

Read a Book
Many books are available about character development. Here are three to get you started: A Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein. This book covers personality types, normal and abnormal and will acquaint you with the personality types in specific professions. Try Bullies, Bastards and Bitches by Jessica Morrell for guidance on how to develop bad guy characters. You might want to look at Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress for more character development guidance.

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  • Are and photo images free as I recall I received a call before informing me that any photos downloaded from the websites mention will impose a fee. Author to Elements, soon to publish novel.
  • Thank you for all those great tips. Nicole