Are you trying to write fiction, but find that your main character seems stiff and wooden and don’t seem to have much life? Perhaps instead of that, your main character is just a stereotype that seems obvious and clichéd. Those are symptoms of an under-developed character. The solution is to metaphorically walk up to your character and shake hands and begin asking that character questions about himself.
Whether you need help with knowing what to write for NaNoWriMo or if you’re working on a subsequent draft of your novel and just want to dig deeper into knowing your main character. Consider opening a new document and call it the Character Bible for (Your Work in Progress). Then title a section with the name of your main character. Now, begin asking the character the following questions about himself and write the answers down in the document.
What does he (or she, but to make it easier for the purposes of this hub, I’ll refer to the character as he) look like? What’s his nationality? What’s his race? What is his gender preference? What color is his hair? What color eyes? How tall is he? Is he fat or skinny? Does he have any scars or birthmarks? Is he handsome? What makes him handsome? How does he dress? Does he prefer jeans and a tee shirt or business casual, or does he prefer a suit, is he dressed in animal furs? What’s his favorite outfit?
Does he have any chronic illnesses and how does it affect his looks?
Does he have any mannerisms or tells?
Where does he live? In what century does he live? Does he live in an urban, suburb, or rural area?
Who’s his family? Do they live nearby? What’s his mother like? How about his father? Does he have siblings? How many What’s his birth order? Is he first born or last or somewhere in the middle or an only child?
Is he married? What’s his spouse like? Does he have children? If not, does he want children?
Does he have friends? What kind of friends?
Does he have a pet or pets? Is it a dog? A cat or something exotic like a snake, a ferret or a scorpion? What’s the pet’s name? Does the pet like the MC? In general, do pets and children like this character.
What’s his favorite color? What’s his favorite food? What’s his favorite sport? Does he prefer to playthe sport or is he a spectator? What’s his favorite team? Does he watch on television or does he have box seats? How else does he spend his time?
What does he like?
What does he dislike?
What’s his personality? When’s his birthday? What’s his sign? What is he on the Briggs/Myer personality test?
Does he have prejudice against minorities? Which ones? Is he prejudice against certain professions?
What is he afraid of? Does he have strong aversions?
What’s his profession? Has he had the same career the entire time or was he in a completely different career in the past?
How does he handle money? Is he tight with it? Does he like to spend it like it was burning a hole in his pocket?
Who does he work with? What’s his boss like? Who is his mentor at work?
Create a Backstory Based on the Above Answers
Now that you have the answers to those questions, put them into a narrative where the character is speaking to you from first person. In other words, have the character tell you the answers to you about himself.
As you’re writing out this narrative, add in the reasons why the character is like he is. Have the character include stories about why he feels he is the way he is.
For instance, let’s say your character doesn’t like mice. Matter of fact, he is afraid of them. Why is he afraid of them? Let’s say that he is afraid of them because when he was a little kid he was at his aunt’s house and a mouse came scurrying out of the wall and the adults in the room were trying to get it out of the house. He was sitting in a chair, and his cousin, who had been playing on the floor in front of him, jumped up on the chair to get away from the mouse and the broom his sister was holding as she was trying to get the mouse out the door. The mouse who didn’t particularly want to get out the door ran up the back of the chair and the main character saw at close range the mouse’s teeth. He screamed and jumped back out of the chair and ever since then he had a PTSD moment whenever he saw any mouse. He knew the feeling wasn’t rational, but he couldn’t shake the fear he felt whenever he saw one.
Wooden Puppet into a Real Person
As you can see, this isn’t just a series of writing prompts, but a way to get to know your character, particularly the main character better. In addition, you’ll develop background stories that your character might want to share in the story, but don’t think that everything that goes into the backstory will have to go into the story itself. It doesn’t. That’s the funny thing about developing backstory, you are like Geppetto whose Pinocchio turned into a real boy.