Character Cheat Sheet


Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash

Or, Twenty Questions To Ask In Character Creation

  1. Pretend you are walking down a street, and you see your character for the first time. Describe them in one word. No matter how far fetched or illogical this initial impact may be, it may prove invaluable. Use clippings from magazines as illustrations of how you envisage your character by their ‘looks’.
  2. Take physical impressions next. The posture, stance, the stride and rhythm of movement. Possibly body gestures, as well as bulk and density of physical build, as these will give some clues to their character as well.
  3. Are you reminded of an animal or object? But be careful of cliches.
  4. Can you sense or see a colour to the character? Are they a bright person, or do they blend in with their surroundings?
  5. What kind of clothes does the character like to wear? This is usually a key to psyche and social status as well.
  6. The person’s voice. Tone and quality. Do they speak with an accent? What sort of words do they use frequently? How do they say something, and what do they prefer to leave unsaid?
  7. Where does the character live during the story? How does this affect them?
  8. Where and when were they born? What about their childhood? How does their background shape their personality?
  9. What was your characters early influences? i.e. Parents/teacher/first love/heros? These can be a key to your character’s personality.
  10. Decade. Does the one your character lives in influence them? Shape them or their style i.e. 60s. Do they accept the standard of their time, or rebel?
  11. What is the most important thing to the character? What do they want more than anything else? Do they daydream or fantasize at all?
  12. What is their conflict? Is their conflict imposed by circumstances? Or have they created the conflict themselves? And who will settle the conflict—them, or outside influences?
  13. How far will they go to get what they want—i.e., will they steal or commit a crime? You may hook the reader by this ploy too, as your character looks for redemption.
  14. What does the character fear most? Will it keep them from achieving their ends?
  15. More revealing areas to consider: Gambling/alcohol/money/love how do they handle competition?
  16. How do they react to children, old people, foreigners and the sick?
  17. How does the character shape the plot? And, of course, how does the plot shape the character?
  18. How does the character interact with other members of the cast? Who acts as their foil? Who contrasts or compliments them? And, who threatens them?
  19. Do you like or hate this character? What is desirable or negative about them? What are their faults? Mix and match light with dark, in much the same way a painter would to add depth and shading.
  20. And finally, what is there to make the reader care about what happens to your character?

Remember, each character’s backstory tell us more about who the character is, and what shaped them to become who they are now.

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6 Comments

  1. June 27, 2019

    This is so useful, if only to help ‘solidify’ my characters in my head! Thank you 🙂

    • June 28, 2019

      Thanks, Nicola, I’m happy to hear that it gives you some idea on how writers create and think about their characters. 😀

  2. theorangutanlibrarian
    June 30, 2019

    This is such a great list of questions! Especially since they’re unusual and yet oddly specific.

    • July 1, 2019

      Thanks, I hope you find them useful.

  3. Sophie
    July 1, 2019

    That’s it! You’ll make it to my next Sunday Post! Years ago an author’s friend sent me something similar to help a friend at work who was writing her first book. I beta read it and pointed that characters needed some “flesh” around the bones. It was really helpful and right along what you’ve said here above!

    • Alexandra
      July 2, 2019

      Thanks you, Sophie. I’d be happy for you to share this one with anyone you think it might help, or any of this series of articles.

      This particular cheat sheet is one I created a long time ago, and is still helpful to me even now, as a reminder of how to think about characters.