50+ character development questions for writers of extraordinary fiction
Well developed, realistic characters are the focal point of fiction today. No matter how incredible your plot or world is, if your characters are flat, one-dimensional, caricatures with no soul, then the reader isn’t going to develop that all-important emotional bond with them. Think about it, would people really read Harry Potter, Sherlock Homes, or Jane Eyre if the main characters didn’t draw them into their world? That’s why character development is so important.
Of course, you don’t need to flesh out every postman, shopkeeper, and passers-by, but you do need to understand your main characters to write them believably. Not everybody enjoys making rigorous outlines when it comes to telling a story, but when it comes to writing realistic, emotionally developed characters, it’s important to do at least a little bit of research on who they are as a person and what motivates them.
This list has been designed to help you formulate and add depth to your characters. But of course, if one person is writing a space-opera and another is writing a western, the questions needed are going to differ. So, take from this what you need and go create that character your future readers didn’t know they needed.
56 character development questions
These questions focus on character and depth, rather than external appearance and are split into categories for easier use. So, skip ahead if you need to and find the questions most suitable for you.
1 — Are they optimistic or pessimistic? Do they see the best in people? Is every little thing that happens to them the worst thing in the world?
2 — Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Do large crowds give your character anxiety? Do they prefer their own space but still like to socialise on occasion?
3 — How do they speak? Every character should have a unique voice, so it’s important to think about their speech patterns, the slang they use, how often they swear (curse), etc.
4 — Are they fashionable? Do they only buy clothes from charity shops (thrift stores)? Do they spend a long time picking out an outfit?
5 — Are they healthy? Very few people are perfectly healthy. So, do you want your character to be one of the lucky few with no health issues, or will they have something that thousands, if not millions, live with every day? This doesn’t have to be a big part of the story but it can help to add an extra layer of depth and realism to a character.
6 — Do they have any habits? Do they bite their nails? Do they tuck their hair behind their ears when talking to someone they’re attracted to?
7 — What is their sense of humour like? Is it quite dark? Do they always tell dad jokes? Is it really hard to make them laugh?
8 — How do they show affection? Do they show it publicly, or in private? Do they show their feelings with words or actions?
9 — Do they plan everything or take life as it comes? If they constantly make plans and lists, do they get upset when things don’t work out?
11 — How do they deal with anger? Is it rare for them to get angry? Do they get angry all the time but never show it? Do they blow up at the smallest provocation?
12 — What are they afraid of? Being alone? Death? Deep water? Heights? Spiders? The only two fears humans are born with is the fear of loud noises and falling, everything else is a learned response, so why do they have this fear?
13 — What makes them cry? Are they highly emotional? Is it hard to make them cry, but once they do it’s hard for them to stop? Are they an ugly cryer?
14 — What annoys them about other people? Over-exaggeration? Kindness? Falseness? People that talk too much?
15 — Are they materialistic? Do they own a lot of possessions? Do they not care for ‘things’ and only own the necessities? What object has the most emotional value?
16 — What haunts them? Is there a dark part of their past that bothers them late at night? Have they witnessed an atrocity or an act of ultra-violence?
17 — What is their opinion of themselves? Do they believe they are smarter than everybody else? Do they dislike any aspects of their personality?
18 — What are their politics? Does their politics line up with that of the government, or the general view of the public? Do they agree with the same thing as their peers? Will they die for their beliefs?
19 — Do they prefer the city or the countryside? Do they like the bustling city centre or prefer the peaceful tranquillity of a stroll through the countryside?
20 — What quality do they value most in the people around them? Honesty? Generosity? Loyalty? Their capability for violence? These can vary drastically depending on the situation your character is in.
21 — If they could change anything about themselves, what would it be? Their personality? Their ability to socialise? Their position in society? Their appearance?
22- What are their ambitions? Do they want to be the emperor of the world? Learn how to paint? Become a famous author? To just be happy?
23 — Are they animal lovers? Do they own pets? Are they vegetarian or vegan for the animals benefit? Do they like certain animals more than others? Are there any animals that they dislike?
24 — What are their opinions on love? Do they believe in love at first sight? Are they obsessed with finding a partner or are they waiting for the right person to come along?
25 — What do they hate/despise? Their job? Their family? The government? The police? Racism? Homosexuality? Organised religion? People chewing with their mouths open? It can be anything.
26 — What are their religious/spiritual beliefs? Do they believe in the afterlife? Do they believe in reincarnation? Do they believe astral projection and DMT are ways to access a plane of existence beyond our own? Do they follow a particular belief system?
27 — If the entire world was going to explode and they could only save one person, who would it be? A family member, a friend, a politician, a celebrity?
28 — What is their image of the perfect utopia? Would it be perfect for everybody, only certain groups of people, or just for themselves and their loved ones?
29 — Do they come from a big or small family? Is the family close? Are they spread all over the world/country, or do they all live in the same town? How has this affected their upbringing?
30 — Have they ever left the city they live in? Have they travelled the world? Only been on holiday once or twice? Have they never left the city they were born in?
31 — What was their upbringing like? Did they come from a poor family that struggled to make ends meet? Did they have a happy childhood? Were they neglected by their parents and raised by a sitter?
32 — What is their proudest moment in life? Are they proud of their education? Did they save a drowning child? Is their proudest moment the actions of one of their children?
33 — Who have they been in love with? Who was their first love? Do they regret falling in love with somebody? Have they always been monogamous or have they ever been in a polygamous relationship? Have they ever had their heart broken, or have they broken somebody else’s?
34 — Have they ever bullied or been bullied? Does it have a long-lasting effect on them? Have they altered the way they behave because of this? Do they lie awake at night thinking about it?
35 — What is their best/worst childhood memory? Has it had a lasting effect on their personality?
36 — What is their biggest regret? Is it something they’ve done to a loved one? Have they let somebody die through inaction? Have they ignored a problem rather than dealt with it until everything fell apart?
37 — Is there a moment in their life that changed them forever? This could be positive or negative. Maybe a teacher went out of their way to help them through a tough situation or, maybe they lived through a genocide.
Their current situation (at the start of the story):
38 — How do others see them? Are they seen as a socialite, when in reality they struggle in social situations? Do people generally like or dislike them? Do people care about their opinions?
39 — Do they have any secrets? Have they accidentally killed somebody and never told a soul about it? Are they in love with their best friend? Do they have a job they refuse to tell anybody about? Do some people know these secrets when others don’t?
40 — What are their friends like? Do they have many? Are they close or are they only friends because they see each other all the time? Who do they talk about their problems with?
41 — Are they in a relationship? How do they act around their partner? Are they protective? Do they rely on them too heavily? Are they even in love? Are they happy in their relationship?
42 — What do they do for fun in their spare time? Do they write stories? Do they spend all of their time on Twitter? Do they volunteer at a homeless shelter? Do they watch endless TV? Do they like to get drunk or high?
43 — What do they do for a living? Do they work in an office? Sell their body? Make music? Run a YouTube channel? Rob banks? Does it pay well and do they enjoy it? What are the jobs they did before this?
44 — Do they have specialist training? Have they been trained by the military? Are they trained to hack computers? Have they mastered the blade?
45 — What is their daily routine? Do they have a plan they stick to, or do they see where the day takes them? Do they have to do things at specific times? What happens if they don’t stick to this routine?
46 — What type of music do they listen to? What is their favourite song? Do they listen to one genre of music or many? Do they have any guilty pleasures?
47 — What is their favourite meal? Where do they get it from? Do they cook it themselves? Is it cooked by a loved one?
48 — Where is their dream holiday destination? Would they want to sit next to a swimming pool for two weeks or would they prefer to tour the museums?
49 — What would they want their funeral to be like? Would they want to be buried in a lavish coffin? Do they want to be cremated? Perhaps they want to be preserved and put on show for all to see.
50 — Do they act differently in front of certain people? Do they act differently in front of their parents to hide how messy their life is becoming?
51 — How do they treat others? Do they treat everybody with respect or only certain groups? Would they be nice to a homeless person if nobody was watching or would they just ignore them?
52 — How do they deal with conflict? Are they likely to use violence as a tool when resolving issues? Are they logical in their approach or do they immediately blow up?
53 — How would they respond in an emergency situation? Would they film a burning building, or help put the fire out? Would they wait for somebody else to resolve the situation?
54 — How do they act around strangers? Are they immediately trusting or are they wary of people they don’t know?
55 — How do they calm themselves down when they’re angry or stressed? Do they go for a walk? Do they punch the wall or throw a plate? Do they tire themselves out from being so angry that they start crying?
56 — Do they keep their promises? Do they take promises seriously? Do they refuse to make a promise unless they can guarantee they can keep it?
Originally published at www.cult-fiction.net on January 30, 2019.