Writing Believable Characters

7 Questions to Ask Your Characters 

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Here are seven questions that you need to ask about your characters in order to give them depth.


Untitled-11.What is your character’s story goal?

Without a goal, your character would only exist to advance the story, which is not ideal. Every character must have a life of its own. The story goal should spring from the character’s ambition, and this ambition must be significant, achievable, and at the same time, difficult.


Untitled-12.What’s your character’s personality?

Specify personal history, physical description, education, family background, job experiences, love life, dislikes and prejudices, preferences in food, clothes, cars, etc. Can you think of someone who never experienced an inner dilemma or regretted a decision even once? If not, don’t forget to mention in what ways your characters encounter their inner demons. A bit of self-doubt is inevitable if your characters are human.


Untitled-13.How would your character describe himself?

Make a list of your character’s backstory and exposition methods from your character’s point of view. Jot down some childhood issues, wishes for the future, happy moments from the past, and even secret fantasies. You don’t have to squeeze all these things to your story; they’re there to help you to get know your character’s method. Imagine you’re a journalist interviewing your character; journalists don’t publish every word their interviewee says but they still demand every detail.


Untitled-14.Does your character have a distinctive voice?

We don’t only sound and talk differently, but we pause for different lengths of time, we break off speech or interrupt others in different ways and intervals. Let your characters have the same freedom. Let them have their own voice in their dialogue and inner monologue.


Untitled-15.What’s your character’s family like?

I was told by a publisher that the biggest mistake new writers make is focusing on the main character solely. Don’t forget to give your characters their private lives. What sort of values would they fight for? Who would they take as a role model? Describe their parents, siblings and children.


Untitled-16.How would your character’s friends describe him?

This is a good exercise as it takes you out of your characters’ shoes and forces you to look at them from the outside, while you still remain in their world. What are their fears? How are they expressed? Are their fears fair, understandable matters, or manufactured paranoias?


Untitled-17.What was going on in  your character’s world?

What ideas or events have the greatest influences on your character? Any historical events, wars, major scientific inventions, geographical discoveries? Give your character a life in a sophisticated, or at least authentic, world.

The magic of writing will reveal itself when you answer these questions. Remember, the more daring you are the more strongly your characters will stand by you.


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S.E. is the Founder of Mash Stories. She has had short stories published in fiction magazines across the US and the UK. One of her stories was included in The Subtopian: Selected Stories. Her poetry book, Before Me, is published by Thought Catalog Books, New York. She is currently working on a science fiction novel called Split Watch. You can read some of her short stories and poems at http://sesever.com.

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