Character Development

This page contains tools and ideas to help you with character development.  For more writing tips, be sure to join our free email group.

Ready to create some characters?

girls laughing together

How to get character ideas

Character ideas are all around you! Here are some places to start:

  • A name. When you see the name Gertrude, or Desiree or Mitch or Archibald, what mental images come to mind? Names carry different associations and can be a useful character-development tool. You can choose a random name and use it as the seed of a character.

  • People-watching. Take someone you see at the supermarket and invent a life for them.

  • People you know. You can imagine a character who combines traits from two people you know. Or take one aspect of your neighbor or relative and exaggerate it.

  • Pictures of friends of friends on social media. Or go to Flickr, type "portrait" in the search box, and browse the faces.

  • Houses you pass on the street. Imagine who lives there.

  • Yourself. Take some aspect of yourself and exaggerate it. Or imagine a character who's the opposite of yourself in some way.

Once you have the seed of a character, try to imagine a personality and life for that person.

Character profiles are a way to get to know your characters so you can bring them to life on the page. What you do is take notes on various aspects of the character; e.g.,

  • Name
  • Age
  • Physical appearance
  • Personality traits
  • Profession
  • Hobbies/interests
  • Important relationships
  • Something they want
  • A problem they're facing.

Click here to get our character profiling e-book for free.

The information in the character profile won't all necessarily make it into your story. The profile is a behind-the-scenes tool to help you imagine the character more fully.

Once the character's alive in your imagination, they'll help you write your story in a way that feels authentic.

You'll be able to ask yourself:

  • What would this character say in this situation?
  • What choice would they make under these circumstances?
  • What would they notice about this scene?
  • What would they be feeling at this moment?

Instead of having to engineer everything your character will say and do, you'll have another option: put your character into an interesting situation and see what you do.

This approach to writing fiction can be extremely fun, like reading an absorbing story only better! The results might also feel more natural and authentic than if you try to push your characters around.

Tip: To make your character do something interesting, throw trouble in their path. Get them out of their comfort zone. Put them them in a difficult situation that forces them to take some kind of action. If they're still not doing anything interesting, make their problems worse. Turn up the pressure until they're forced to do something extreme.

friends sitting around campfire on beach

Showing your characters

Readers can get to know your characters the same way we learn about people in real life:

  • through their appearance and body language
  • through their words and behavior.

Instead of just telling readers what a character's like, it's often more effective to show the character in action.

Is Joan nosy? Instead of just saying so, you can show her asking nosy questions or spying on her neighbors.

Is Steve conceited? Instead of just saying so, you can show him swaggering and boasting.

Let's look a little more detail at some of the tools you have for showing characters.


Saying that Joan has brown eyes and blond hair doesn't create much of a mental picture. Saying that she has a long, horsey face, or that her makeup is thick as a mask— those details are more interesting. When describing characters, think about what makes them unique.


You can reveal a lot about a character not only through what they say, but also through how they say it. Do they speak politely or brusquely? Do they use formal language or slang? Are they timid or bossy?

Body language

How does your character move? Do they swagger, slink, or shuffle? If they see an attractive stranger, do they grin and wink, or do they blush and look away?


Does your character like to wear a tweed suit? A ripped jeans jacket? A brand-new $1000 designer jeans jacket that your character purchased pre-ripped? Do they have piercings and tattoos? A lucky necklace with a heart-shaped locket containing a picture of their mother who mysteriously disappeared when they were six months old?


Does your character live in a mansion or a cramped rental apartment? Is the place spotless, or is the furniture buried under layers of junk? Does your character have a butterfly collection displayed on the wall, or Polaroids of all their murder victims?  Do they have a hiding place, and what do they keep there?


If the story is written from the character's point of view, you can show that character's thoughts. You can quote thoughts directly, like this:

I'd better get out of here, Mary thought.

Or, you can quote them indirectly, like this:

Mary thought she'd better get out of there.

Other people's reactions

When your character walks into a room, does every head turn? Do other characters bully or dismiss your character, or are they intimidated by them?  You can show a lot about a character through other characters' reactions.

Making your characters interesting

Click here for tips on writing interesting characters.

friends laughing on beach

Story prompts for character development

Here are some prompts you can use to turn your characters into stories...

1) Your character meets someone on an online dating site and sends a message to that person describing themselves. Write the message. This message contains two lies. What are they? Why did the character tell them? Also: your character has a very mistaken idea of the impression they make on other people. What impression does your character think they make? What impression do they really make? Figure all this stuff out. If you want, fill out a character profile. The character arranges an in-person meeting with the person they have met online. What happens at the meeting? Write the story.

2) Your character has a certain deeply-held belief about life. This belief may be based on religion, on something the character learned from their parents, or on their own experience. Decide what this belief is and where it came from. In your story, something happens to the character that seems incompatible with this belief. How does your character react? Write the story.

3) Force your character to share a small space (examples: office, hotel room, broken elevator, airplane row) with exactly the type of person who most gets on your character’s nerves. This person then proceeds to get on your character's nerves. And then the situation escalates...

You're invited to join our 8-week character development course.

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Character Development - Next Steps

Learn about plot structure.

Learn about dialogue.

Join our online course on character development.