Getting to know your characters is vital for any writer and any story.
Characters drive plot. How they react to the world around them is what creates drama and interest. So knowing your character, and understanding how they would respond in any given situation, is essential.
That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate list of character development questions so you can learn everything you need to know about each and every one of your characters.
Basic Character Development Questions
When you’re first getting to know someone, you learn the basic things about them: their name, their age, what they look like.
Think of getting to know your fictional characters the same way you’d get to know a new friend. You have to start with the basics before you get to the in-depth backstory.
Here are a few basic questions to get you started…
What’s their name?
Deciding on your character’s name is probably one of the first things you’ll do for a story.
Once you know their name, consider if they have any nicknames, or if their given name gets abbreviated at all.
Also consider their full, family name. A character’s name can function as convenient worldbuilding and setting establishment.
An English-sounding name will tell the reader to expect England or an England-inspired setting, for example.
How old are they?
The age of your character will affect a lot of things, including how they react to certain events. It can also affect how your readers connect to the character.
Your character’s age will affect the tone of your story, too. While it may not be too jarring to see a wise wizard fighting a dragon, it’s startling to see a child square up against such a ferocious beast.
Where were they born?
If your story is set in this world, where on Earth was your character born? In your own home town? In the city? On a farm?
If your story is set in a secondary world (such as in a fantasy or sci-fi story), you can create the place your character was born from scratch.
You should also consider whether a character’s birthplace holds importance for them. Are they fond of the place they were born? Do they wish to escape to somewhere new?
Have they already left? Do they look back with positive or negative feelings?
Do they have siblings?
Growing up with siblings and without siblings are two very different experiences. Did your character have siblings or close relatives around the house when they were young?
Were they an only child, or the only one left at home after older siblings moved away?
Importantly, what was their relationship like with their siblings if they had any? Did they get along well?
Was there an element of rivalry between them? Or were they thick as thieves, getting into mischief together?
What do they look like?
Is your character particularly athletic? Are they tall or short? Are they skinny or curvaceous?
Their general appearance may not affect your story much, but these are good details to know so that you can come back to them if necessary.
What are their features like?
Hair, eye and skin colour are details we often take in when we first meet someone. You should know what kind of features your character has, even if you don’t put every detail on the page.
This is also a good time to note if their physical features come with any difference in lived experience. How does this affect your character? How does it affect the representation in your story?
Do they have any disabilities?
Is your character disabled or able-bodied? Are they hard of hearing? Blind?
Maybe they walk with a cane, like Kaz Brekker from the Six of Crows duology. Or perhaps they have an invisible disability that someone might not notice the first time they meet them.
Do they have any scars?
Scars can lead into your character’s backstory, become a point of characterisation, or be purely aesthetic.
For backstory, perhaps they got a scar fighting the person who harmed their loved one. For characterisation, maybe they’re clumsy and burned themselves cooking a few times.
For aesthetics, maybe you just like the way a scar looks.
How do they dress?
Dress style is a lot like scars: it can tell a story. A character’s style can become one of the more memorable things about them.
Do they wear comfortable clothes that make fighting or running easy? Maybe they wear bold colours because they like to show off.
They might even wear hardly any clothes, most often lounging around their home in a glamorous silk robe.
How your character dresses tells the world a bit about who they are. As the creator of your character, you need to know how they present themselves to the world, and how that affects their story.
Are they introverted, extroverted, or ambiverted?
If you suddenly dropped your character into a party, would they thrive? Or would they hide in a corner all evening?
Maybe they’re the type to find the cat or dog at the party and spend the whole evening petting them.
You can extend this question and learn your character’s Myers–Briggs personality type if you like. Just take a quiz and answer for your character.
This should give you some handy general insights into who your character is and enable you to write them even better.
How educated are they?
What level of education has your character completed? High school? University or college? Postgraduate studies?
How educated your character is may affect how they see and relate to other people, and how they view education as a whole.
If they left high school before graduating, they may see people who have spent their whole lives pursuing education to be wasting their time.
Maybe they’re happier having pursued their dream career right out of school – or maybe they’re envious of those people for being able to study at a higher level.
How do they speak?
How educated someone is can factor into how they speak. Not just the language or languages they use, but the way they use that language as well.
Does your character have a deep well of unique words to draw from, showcasing their skill with their language of choice? Do they stick to similar words and phrases, utilising plain language rather than a lot of idioms?
Have they learned so many languages that they slip up and accidentally use a word from a different language in the middle of a sentence?
Do they use colourful language, peppering in curse words to add flair to their sentences?
It’s very important to know how a character speaks before you start writing them. Their dialogue patterns could be inconsistent throughout your story if you don’t lock the style down early on.
What’s their favourite hobby?
How does your character spend their free time?
Do they love to cook elaborate dishes or bake cakes? Maybe they spend hours playing video games, alone or with friends. Or they might love to read, devouring any book they can get their hands on.
Your character might love to run for fun. Or they might have made a hobby of learning to swordfight. They might like to draw things, or sing songs while frolicking in nature, as if they’re in a Disney film.
Most people have things like they to do just for fun. Make sure your character has hobbies (or at least, the desire for hobbies if their schedule is too full), to help make them feel more real to the reader.
Hobbies can be fun for you and your reader, as well as for your character! They can be the subject of a lighter slice-of-life chapter, or a bonus short story for your readers.
Are they messy or neat?
How does your character keep their living space (and themselves)? Clothes all over their bedroom floor? Hair needing a brush? Odd socks because they couldn’t find a matching pair?
Or is everything in its precise place? Do they give their hair 100 brushstrokes every night before bed? Are all their outfits planned to perfection?
Most likely, your character is somewhere in between, but they’ll likely have quirks that stray to either side.
These details may not be relevant to your plot, but they can help create a three-dimensional character. They can also be a point of humour if you want to add some levity to your story.
In-Depth Character Development Questions
This next set of questions may be harder for you to answer, but they’re even more important than the basic questions above.
Take your time answering these in-depth character questions if you need. There’s no point in rushing your character development only to realise you’ve got your character all wrong once you’ve already started writing.
What matters most to them?
This can be the hardest question to answer. Many writers find they can only answer this properly as they write their story, going along on the journey with their characters.
Knowing what matters most to a character means knowing what they want in life, what motivates them.
Maybe the thing that matters most is wealth. Maybe it’s family. Maybe it’s popularity, success, fame.
Once you know what matters most to a character, you know the heart of them and how they will act throughout your story.
What’s their greatest desire?
A character’s greatest desire directly stems from what matters most to them.
For example, if the thing that matters most to them is family, their greatest desire might be to have a big family of their own – or to save their family from peril.
If the thing that matters most to a character is wealth, their greatest desire may be to be the richest person on the planet.
A character’s desire is what progresses them through their own story. It will dictate how they act and react to the world around them.
What’s their greatest fear?
Fear and desire are two sides of the same coin. What your character wants most in the world and what they want to avoid at all costs are likely the inverse of each other.
Sure, your character might have a fear of heights – but if their desire is to have a lot of friends and be popular, then their greatest fear might be being alone and forgotten.
Knowing a character’s greatest fear takes a bit of work, but once you understand it, you’ll know them a lot better (and be able to write them a lot better as well).
What are their biggest flaws?
Character flaws are essential if we want to write well-rounded, three-dimensional people. Sure, it’s important to know the little flaws, like being clumsy, but what are their major flaws?
Perhaps your character’s biggest flaw is their inability to trust others. Or it could be that they always believe everything that they are told.
A character’s flaws are what make them relatable and real to readers. Knowing your character’s flaws is an essential step in creating a fully realised person and driving the plot through character development.
Did they have a happy childhood?
Deciding if your character had a happy childhood is a popular character development exercise. After all, childhood can impact a person well into their adult life.
You may have thorough notes about your character’s upbringing, and those notes can help you as you develop who your character is now.
You might only have a vague idea of their childhood, which is also fine. The important thing is that you have at least some understanding of their life before the plot of your story begins.
Do they fit into a traditional archetype?
Do you know your character well enough that you could say for sure what type of literary hero they are?
Make sure you know if they’re a reluctant hero or an antihero before you throw them into the action of your story.
How do they see themselves?
We know that how someone sees themselves and how they are in reality are not always the same. So with that in mind, how does your character see themselves?
Do they think they are more or less attractive than they actually are? More brave or more cowardly? Do they think themselves smarter than they are, or do they underestimate their own intelligence?
It’s even more important for you to know these details if your character will be an unreliable narrator.
If they see themselves as a dashing hero, but in reality they’re a selfish fool, you’ll need to understand that delusion inside and out.
How do they treat people worse off than themselves?
When coming across someone unfortunate, does your character treat that person with disdain?
Maybe they consider talking to someone of a lower class a waste of their time. Maybe they have compassion for all people, no matter their station in life.
Or perhaps they’re somewhere in the middle: indifferent.
How do they treat people better off than themselves?
Now that you know how your character treats someone worse off, how would they treat someone better off?
Do they hold a grudge against people born into privilege and power? Do they fawn over themselves to do whatever someone of a higher station wants them to do? Are they a loyal servant or a rebel?
They might not even notice the wealth of others at all. But that’s just as important to note as if they do.
Do they develop friendships and relationships easily?
This may seem similar to deciding whether they’re an introvert or extrovert, but it can be a deeper question than that if you want it to be.
Do they make lasting friendships and relationships? Or only superficial ones?
This is partly a question of vulnerability. Can they be vulnerable enough to let people into their life? Or are they guarded and closed-off?
What do they look for in a friend or a romantic partner?
Whether your character makes strong connections or not, they’ll likely have something that they want from a friendship or a relationship. Even if they won’t admit it to anyone (including themselves).
On the other hand, maybe your character is actively seeking out a friend or a romantic partner. Maybe they already know exactly what it is they want from that relationship.
Are they looking for a partner in crime? Someone to laugh at their jokes? Someone to offer brutally honest feedback when they need it? Someone who will simply smile and go along with their plans?
What does your character prioritise and appreciate in the people around them?
Are they an optimist or a pessimist?
Sure, it’s not as simple as the glass being half empty or half full, but most characters have a generally positive or generally negative outlook on life.
In terms of optimists, your character might be bubbly, always seeing the best in people. Or they could be beaten down by the hardships of the world, but still believe that good will always prevail.
A pessimist character might feel that things don’t always come up sunny. They see the negatives around them and have decided that there’s nothing to be done.
On the other hand of pessimism, they could live a nihilistic life, accepting that things are bad and doing whatever they want.
Your character’s general optimism or pessimism may be something you’re already aware of in the back of your mind. Take the opportunity to write it down in your character profile.
It’s worth noting, though, that plenty of characters change in this regard as they progress along their story. A character arc may transform a pessimist into an optimist, and vice versa.
How do they respond to a threat or a challenge?
Threats and challenges cause us all to have an animalistic response of some kind – whether it’s fight, flight, freeze or fawn. But these can be more than just physical conflicts.
Maybe your character experiences a threat against their business from a competitor, or a challenging of their intelligence.
Maybe it’s a combined threat and challenge from a new person who’s trying to steal their romantic partner from them.
How does your character respond when faced with a threatening or difficult situation?
What do they love to hate?
We all have those shows that we end up hate-watching whole seasons of. What does your character love to despise?
Is there a person they love to complain about with friends? A book they read that then required hours and many glasses of wine to thoroughly decimate with their book club?
What do they hate to love?
The other side of the coin is something your character hates to love. A guilty pleasure, perhaps. A habit that they wish they could kick but that they just keep coming back to.
We see this a lot in romantic comedies. The protagonist has a romantic interest they wish they didn’t love, but can’t help being drawn to.
Most characters will have something (or someone) that they secretly love, but would never admit to loving. Not even to themselves.
If they won the lottery, what’s the first thing they would buy?
For some people, their first purchase if they won the lottery would be a new house. For others, it’s a fancy car or a dream holiday.
What would your character buy? A shiny new necklace? A new pair of shoes? A lifetime supply of tea? (We wouldn’t blame them for that one.)
If they suddenly found themselves flush with cash, what’s the thing that tops their list of impulse purchases? Something they’ve always wanted but never had the means to acquire?
It might seem like a silly question to ask of your character. But knowing what they’d choose can actually reveal a lot about them, and provide a good insight into what they really want.
Hopefully, with all those questions, you’re well on the way to knowing your character as well as you know yourself.
You may not need to answer every single question. And for minor characters, you may not have to answer many at all. But as you plan out your book’s cast, answer as many questions as you can.
To make things a bit easier, we’ve put all these questions (as well as space for your answers) into a PDF file you can download and print.
Once you can answer all these character development questions, you’ll understand your character on a deeper level – and be more than prepared to start writing their story.