Guest Post: Three Questions for Developing Characters

Hey Everybody, it’s me.


So this thing called college happened and it’s my first year and AHHHH! (*cueinternalandexternalscreaming*).  Basically, I’ve missed a couple of weeks of posting.  Sorry about that.  BUT WE’RE BACK!  (I hope.)  And speaking of hope, Hope Ann (My friend and writing team captain from over at Kingdom Pen) is supplying our content for the week.  Anyway, if you want to know more about Hope and read more of her stuff (SHE HAS A BOOK!) then check her out on her website.

Also, I’ll be wrapping up our storyboarding miniseries next week, so come back for that!  😀

And now, with no further ado, Hope Ann:

Defining a character can run into great detail, from deciding what a character likes to eat, to his favorite color, to ‘does he snore’? I’ve filled out pages of questions about characters, then promptly forgotten most of what I’d written and never bothered to look back at it. The character was alive in my head. I didn’t need to remember if he preferred a savory stew or roasted steaks. It wasn’t like he was getting either of them, no matter which he liked best.

Over time, I’ve narrowed down the points I need to know about a character before I start writing. There are three which greatly help flesh out major characters and provide a sound framework even for the minor ones.

What does your character want?

Not the little things, like food and shelter. There’s always going to be something a character needs or wishes for. But what does he really, really, really want? What is always in the back of his mind? What would he give almost everything to gain? Honor? Love? Gold? Being viewed as worthy? He may not realize his desires narrow down to a single phrase but, once we as authors know what this desire is, we can use it to inspire him, torment him, and eventually, change him.

For major characters you can also consider if what the character wants is actually what he needs. What they want may drive the story to the end where they get it. Or it may turn out to not be as important as they once thought, and they give it up for something else that is truly worth their effort.

The character’s desires will drive what he says, does, and how he views the circumstances going on around him, but it is mirrored by the second questions.

What does your character fear?

Except in rare cases, your character is bound to fear something. If he doesn’t fear anything, then you can probably glean quite a bit of information about him by figuring out why they don’t fear anything. But generally, your character will have some fears.

This isn’t mere situational fear. It’s natural for a character be afraid while hiding from an enemy or running from wolves or when wounded in the middle of battle. Most characters will have this. But there is a second kind a fear, his or her own fear.

This is probably coupled with the ghost that drives your character’s life. There is something they fear, even if they won’t admit it or don’t even recognize it. Something deep, hidden perhaps, beneath layers of other fears. A character may fear breaking under torture but, below that, he fears he isn’t worthy and won’t be able to stand fast to overwhelming force. He may fear something happening to his family while deeper down he harbors a nameless fear that he isn’t good enough.

This final fear will tell you quite a bit about your character. Does he fear for himself, or for others? What or who does he care for most and where do his deepest loyalties lie? It also gives you another weapon to torment him with by making him choose between two fears or prodding a character to see what will make her face her fear. Will anything force them to allow the fear to come to pass, what they will give to keep a fear from coming true, and what happens when you place what they desire beyond what they fear? All of these questions, as well as the ones about what a character wants, rests on a third.

What does your character depend on?

Does your character rely on himself for strength? Is his own power the only way to get things done? Is he the ‘end of the line’? Or does he rely on someone higher than himself? A family. A king. A magical weapon. A nation. A God, either true or false.

Though this question may be very much in the background of your story and plot, it makes all the difference to the character. Even if the actions of a man rescuing his daughter, or a princess taking back her throne end up being the same, the attitudes and emotions coupled with their actions will change drastically depending on who, or what, they rely on. What carries them through fears? What drives them forward or what belief crumples when faced with too much pressure?

The degrees of reliance may vary. For minor characters, simply answering the question will be enough. For others, reliance on self, land, or God may shift through their character arc. What they once depended on may prove to be false or untrustworthy, leaving them room to grow or to fall.

As you plan your next character, keep these three questions in mind. You can delve deep, or you can just answer each on in a single sentence. What does your character want more than anything? What does she fear? And what does he rely on? Answer these, and you are well on your way to searching out their depths and motivations.

Huge shoutout to Hope for dropping in on us today!  Y’all have a great week!


Photo: Tulips, Bernard Spragg Public Domain

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Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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