Nearly every child goes through the phase of having an imaginary friend. I’m sure it came as no surprise to your parents when you started babbling about the purple, spotted puppy that always drank your imaginary tea or the crazy stories of flying with a pink elephant that could cry candy (“Inside Out,” anyone?)
As we grew up we found other fantastical ways to express our active imaginations. We expressed ourselves through written word, reading, art, comics, movies or music. All of these avenues replaced our various imaginary friends with the tangible application of what had created them in the first place: our creativity.
In my experience as a writer, I found a very valuable lesson in the existence of those imaginary creatures that once danced so vividly in a child’s mind. All of those details of information that could be recalled so matter-of-factly made me realize that because a child’s imaginary friend is real to them, they can instinctively speak for them.
The same principle of understanding the underlying details, mannerisms and overall scope of an imaginary friend can be applied directly to the creation of characters. In the end, you should be able to hold a conversation with the crafted character as if they have the same level of intricacy you would find in a fellow human being.
While there are many different methods of character creation, most begin with the usual basics: name, birthplace, age, sex, physical description and role within the story. This information is enough to at least get an initial picture of the character you intend to flesh out. The applicable principle of the details that are found within an imaginary friend comes into play when you enter into the second layer of detail concerning your character.
Character generation is a very personal process that will differ from writer to writer. Below are some questions that Jei and I have utilized in the past while creating our own characters. This is by no means a complete list, but we hope these 20 questions will give you a good place to start.
- Who were your character’s parents and what were they like?
- What was your character’s social status or background? Where they poor, rich, middle-class?
- What are some of the more prominent personality flaws your character has?
- What is a trinket or possession they keep nearby and why? Alternatively, why don’t they keep any?
- What kind of nicknames have they earned through their life and how?
- What about your character’s family and their relationship with them?
- What core beliefs does your character hold?
- What kind of jobs has your character held?
- What kind of hobbies do they occupy their time with?
- What is a quirky mannerism or habit your character has?
- What is a distinct physical marking or attribute that your character has?
- What kind of trauma or pain has your character experienced that still affects them today?
- What kind of experience would it be to spend a Friday night hanging out with your character if they were real?
- What is your character’s favorite movie or an equivalent type of entertainment?
- What sort of people might your character consider as friends?
- What kind of bad habits does your character have?
- What kind of prejudices does your character have towards creatures or races?
- What are your character’s hopes and fears?
- How does your character deal with or perceive conflict?
- How does your character function in society? Are they awkward? Charming? Timid?
An important thing to keep in mind is, while the information you discover may never reach your readers directly, these details breathe life into your characters and as a result, make them seem more real to your audience. So play around with various questions, interview your characters and make them as real as your once imaginary friends.
What kind of questions would you ask the characters you are creating? Tell us in the comments!