The Ultimate Character Building Toolkit
A powerful story starts with a unique protagonist who has incredible depth. Taking the time to explore the heart of our main character is really important. We need to dig into their past to see who influenced them in good ways and bad, as well as know what experiences left a mark. These things all help form who the character is today, and it will help us understand their motivation, emotions, needs, and fears, so we can write their behavior and actions authentically.
Here are some of my favorite tools to help you build a character from the ground up:
Character Profile Questionnaire
You won’t find questions like “favorite color” or “childhood pet” on this questionnaire, no Sir-ee! Instead, you’ll be rooting though all the tough, insightful stuff so that you really understand who your character is, what he’s running from, what he needs, and what he must overcome. Roll up your sleeves and dive in!
A Helpful Post: Lessons From James Scott Bell: Characters That Jump Off The Page
The Reverse Backstory Tool
Plot out your character goal (outer motivation), why he wants it (inner motivation), as well as understand how his personality traits, both good and bad will either help or hurt him as he tries to achieve his goal. You can also plot out his emotional wound, the lie he believes and what basic human needs are driving his behavior.
A Helpful Post: Brainstorming The Hero Before You Start Writing
The Character Pyramid Tool
Visualizing your character’s flaws (including core flaws that hold him back in life) and their associated behaviors means you’ll be able to show them authentically through what he says, things, and does. And when situations crop up that poke at his emotional wounds (the defining event), you’ll know exactly how to make him more emotionally reactive so his very worst flaws are triggered.
A Helpful Post: The Four Types of Character Flaws and How The Hero’s Past Pain Will Determine His Character Flaws
The Character Target Tool
Just as your character’s flaws are important to understand so you can show his behaviors accurately when he’s stressed, knowing his core traits is just as important. Use this tool to plan your hero’s moral code, as all positive traits will align with this moral center. This tool becomes a road map for the traits the character must hone and strengthen in order to succeed, achieving his goal.
A Helpful Post: Will Readers Find Your Protagonist Worthy?
Finally, as you are building your character, remember they should be balanced, and have a compelling and authentic mix of admirable attributes and personality flaws. Too, to really create believable characters who feel real to your readers, it’s important to ground your characters in the real world. And, if you’re writing a character that is completely different than you, read this, as it might help will help!
Happy character building! For more amazing free tool for all things writing, visit Writers Helping Writers’ unbelievable Writing Tools page.
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as four others including the newly minted Urban Setting and Rural Setting Thesaurus duo. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop For Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. She loves connecting, so please say hello on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.