Introduction: How to Develop a Character

What makes a developed character?

From Truman Capote’s characterization of Richard Hickock and Perry Edward Smith in his landmark novel, In Cold Blood, or the HBO series True Detective’s Detective Rustin “Rust” Cole (as played by Matthew McConaughey), it is not difficult for readers and viewers alike to find and love examples of developed characters, but it is much more difficult to actually create such a character.

While the definition of a developed character is up for debate, the author of this work believes that a developed character is a character who has an established personality, detailed backstory, and has a conceivable life that extends beyond the plot of the story he or she exists within.

Within a text or any creative work, an author can reveal information about a character to the audience through implicit or direct characterization. Implicit characterization involves the audience determining aspects of a character themselves through the character’s thoughts and interactions. In other words, these aspects are not stated explicitly but are extrapolated by the reader. On the other hand, direct characterization consists of actual dialogue delivered by the character, a narrator, or other characters which blatantly establish aspects of the character. Unlike implicit characterization, direct characterization is explicitly stated.

The nine exercises featured within this work are designed to assist potential authors in utilizing both implicit and direct forms of characterization. After you complete these nine exercises, you will be directed to a personality test which you will take as your perceived character in order to extract as much information as possible about your character.

In order to complete this work, you will need either an electronic or printed copy of “The Character Development Worksheet,” which is to be used in conjunction with this instructable.

Before beginning these exercises, you should already have decided on your character’s legal name and his or her role within the greater plot of your work.

Note: This work is not the end-all-be-all of character development. This instructable and corresponding worksheet were designed to stimulate creative thinking and brainstorming in potential authors regarding their characters. A well-developed character can take months to fully flesh out, depending on the author and his or her inspiration.

For the sake of providing an example of completing this process, this work features a few questions from the "Character Development Worksheet" from each of the ten steps, answered as they apply to a fictional character named Glenn Cline. Glenn has to make a withdrawal at a local bank, but is pushed to his limits when four armed robbers launch a heist.

Step 1: Background

For this step, refer to Exercise I: Background, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

In order to create a character with a life that exists outside of the plot of your story, you should begin by establishing your character's background.

Answer all of the questions in this exercise with as much detail as you are able. While the plot of your story may not revolve around your character's relationship with a relative or his or her job, it is important to realize that people who experience unhealthy familial relationships will behave differently than those who experience healthy familial relationships. In the same vein, people who enjoy their jobs will likely possess a different outlook than an individual who utterly detests his or her occupation.

For example, although the fictional character Glenn is dealing with a bank robbery in terms of the story's plot, the resentment he holds for his father's death could push him to behave heroically, refusing to die without a fight. Perhaps before he faces the robbers, he thinks one last time of his mother, rotting in a psych ward, who he suddenly wishes he had visited more often.

Remember, a developed character has opinions and experiences which exist outside of your plot.

Step 2: Appearance

For this step, refer to Exercise II: Appearance, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

Now that you have established your character's basic background, it is time to solidify your character's physical appearance.

Using the large box on the second page of the "Character Development Worksheet," draw a rough sketch of your character in his or her favorite outfit.

Artistic skill is not necessary for this step (as you can see in the author's example). The point of this exercise is to outline the basic physical attributes of your character that you might otherwise have missed within your internal creative processes.

Once you have completed your sketch, write down as many adjectives or general descriptions that you can muster. You can use these adjectives and descriptions later on when you begin writing a physical description of your character for your story.

For example, after drawing Glenn, one can determine that he is not a very strong or intimidating man. These are important aspects that will define Glenn's encounters with other characters, especially the bank robbers.

Step 3: Philosophy

For this step, refer to Exercise III: Philosophy, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

Now that you have established your character's appearance and background, you can focus on developing your character's philosophies. A character, much like an actual human being, will make certain decisions based on his or her philosophies and beliefs.

Religion is often one of the most important influences on a person's decision-making.

For a list of world religions, visit:

Furthermore, a person's view of absolutism vs. relativism, and thus morality, are intrinsic to his or her actions.

For more information on absolutism, relativism, and morality, visit:

All of the world's various philosophies cannot be contained in a few links, however. You should conduct extensive research on any philosophy before you assign it to a character.

For a list of common philosophies and beliefs, visit:

Your research will be well worth your time, however. For example, as Glenn is agnostic, he is not bound by any religious doctrine which prevents him from acting violently. Moreover, as Glenn is a moral nihilist, he will be further removed from any sort of morality which would otherwise prevent his violent behavior.

Make sure to take the time to find philosophies that parallel the personality you are developing for your character.

Step 4: Hardships & Victories

For this step, refer to Exercise IV: Hardships & Victories, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

A person's philosophies can often be linked to particular events in his or her life. For instance, if an individual felt the most self-actualized he or she has ever been during a missionary trip, he or she is more likely to subscribe to Christianity. On the other hand, after suffering a life of abuse and neglect, an individual is more likely to subscribe philosophies such as nihilism.

As such, it is important for you to determine if there are any events in your character's past which have affected his or her personality. These events do not have to be as theatrical as "watching both parents die" and "winning the Super Bowl at thirteen," but it says something about your character if his or her happiest moment is "celebrating a birthday that actually had a cake."

For example, Glenn's father committed suicide when he was very young. Moreover, his mother was institutionalized a year later, after which Glenn was sent to a foster home. Glenn did well in school, however, and was offered a scholarship to DBU, where he graduated with a degree in communication. Due to the lack of close personal relationships in his past, Glenn majors in communication in order to forge such relationships in his future.

As such, despite his depressing upbringing, Glenn has expressed an ability to succeed. Therefore, Glenn's self-worth is tied up in his ability to succeed.

Take the time to examine events in your character's past and to determine what effects they have on your character.

Step 5: Health

For this step, refer to Exercise V: Health, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

It is extremely important that you are aware of the health of your character. Even if your character does not suffer from a serious disease or illness, the health of your character directly influences how he or she will interact with the world.

For instance, a smoker will not be as athletically-capable as a non-smoker. Similarly, if your character is extremely athletic, in order to make this character realistic, you will need to mention his or her workout regimen among his or her other activities.

In Glenn's case, he does not suffer from any major medical conditions, but he does smoke. As Glenn often gives in to social pressures, it is likely that Glenn only smokes socially, yet this decision will still affect his health.

It is important to note here that your character does not need to suffer from a million different conditions in order to be developed. One could argue that a character who suffers too much becomes difficult to relate with and remain interested in. On the other hand, a perfect character who suffers from nothing can be difficult to relate with as well. Keep this in mind.

If you decide that your character does suffer from a medical condition, make sure to research it thoroughly.

For more information on various medical conditions, visit these links:

Mental Disorders

Mental/Intellectual Disabilities

Physical Disabilities

Learning Disabilities

Step 6: Demeanor

For this step, refer to Exercise VI: Demeanor, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

Your character's demeanor is simply his or her general behavior. It is important that you determine your character's demeanor before you place him or her in a stressful or critically-important situation, as his or her demeanor will determine how he or she reacts.

Moreover, a clearly-defined demeanor will further enable your audience to imagine your character outside of the context of your story.

For instance, if I am successful in establishing Glenn's demeanor as an introverted yet socially-interested individual who has to excuse himself from social gatherings in order to have anxious fits, a reader could potentially envision Glenn doing the same at an actual social event in reality.

Your character's demeanor will often result in other characters and your readers grouping your character into a certain archetypes, which will be discussed in the next step.

Step 7: Archetype

For this step, refer to Exercise VII: Archetype, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

An archetype is a generalized role or simplified personality that an individual can offhandedly be labeled.

No one is as simple as a generalized archetype. It is important to realize, however, that, within the reality of your story, there are characters who will label your character as a certain archetype. Moreover, as archetypes are hyper-generalized, you can gleam some truth about your character based on what archetype he or she fits inside.

Carl Jung's twelve archetypes are among some of the most commonly identified archetypes. View them here:

For example, it is interesting to note that Glenn would likely believe that he fits within the hero archetype, as he incorrectly believes that he has extensive physical capabilities. Glenn would actually fit best within the Orphan/ Regular Guy Archetype, as he is plain, constantly present, and rarely noticed.

On the other hand, however, Glenn does not perfectly embody this archetype as he has no interest in traditional values and subscribes to a relativist perspective.

As such, it is important for you to identify how your character will be labeled by him or herself, other characters within your story, and even your readers.

Step 8: Hamartia

For this step, refer to Exercise VIII: Hamartia, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

A hamartia is a fatal flaw which often brings about the downfall of a particular character.

A character's harmartia is often directly linked to the plot of a story. Either the character perseveres despite his or her hamartia, or he or she ultimately succumbs to his or her hamartia and fails to complete his or her mission.

As your character's harmartia will likely directly link to the plot of your story, it is important that you clearly establish this fatal flaw and connect it to the personality that you have developed for your character. A hamartia that seems uncharacteristic for your character will leave your readership feeling disappointed and betrayed.

For instance, Glenn's hamartia is that he incorrectly believes that he has immense physical capabilities. As his past experiences have encouraged him to place the suffering of others before himself, when faced with the bank robbers that are critical to the plot of his story, Glenn will attack these men with little fear in order to protect others and validate his own ill-proportioned analysis of his own strength. As such, Glenn's hamartia will result in his downfall.

Make sure that your character's hamartia is believable and representative of his or her overall personality.

Step 9: Situations

For this step, refer to Exercise IX: Situations, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

Now that you have spent some time getting to know your character, you should imagine how your character would react to certain everyday and theatrical events. Refer to the list of situations in exercise nine on the worksheet and imagine your character within each given occasion.

If simply imagining your character within each situation is not giving your a clear enough picture, you can write a short story for each situation, detailing your character's response.

This exercise will allow you to solidify aspects of your character's personality as well as discover new aspects which you had not thought of previously.

For example, when faced with a homeless person begging for money, Glenn would likely offer as much money as he had in his wallet, as he tends to empathize with the suffering of others and also likes to feel like a hero. This theoretical interaction presents a conflict between Glenn's interest in human beings and his interest in his own vanity.

If your character is particularly vain, he or she might feel unfairly attacked when encountering a homeless person. "I was having a great day until I had to look at you!" he or she might say.

Your character's reactions to these simple situations can tell a great deal about his or her personality.

Step 10: Myers-Briggs Personality Test

For this step, refer to Exercise X: Myers-Briggs Personality Test, on the "Character Development Worksheet."

Using all the characteristics that you have established for your character, you will now take the Myers-Briggs Personality Test as your character.

To take the test, go to:

You might need to take the test multiple times, as it can be difficult to separate your own personal opinions from that of your imagined character. Once you have received the same five-letter personality from the test a couple of times, read the information listed on your character's personality at:

While your character might not adhere perfectly to the personality that the site indicates, this personality should offer you insight into the general behavior of your character.

For instance, the site indicated that Glenn is a ISFJ-T or "Defender." Yet what do these letters mean? "I" indicates that Glenn is introverted. "S" indicates that Glenn makes decisions based on "sensing" what surrounds him in the physical world. "F" indicates that Glenn's behavior is influenced by his feelings. "J" indicates that Glenn tends to make decisions based on judgments of his surroundings. "T" indicates that Glenn is not assertive.

While certain aspects of this personality do not line up with Glenn's character, the pages of information on this personality type provides a great deal of fodder that can be utilized to develop his personality.

Step 11: Conclusions

While these steps and exercises are not foolproof, they constitute an effective means of beginning the development of your character.

Remember that a developed character is an individual that has a perceived life that extends beyond the plot of your story.

For examples of developed characters, click here: