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compiled by the Wandering Author
Use this checklist to trigger ideas, remind yourself of some of the complex traits and behaviours of individuals, capture each character’s salient points, and organise what you know about them. There is no need to define any areas irrelevant to your character. The point is to adapt this to your needs and those of your characters, not to follow it blindly. The questions and suggestions try to take into account all possible genres.
G Full Name: Even if they go by a nickname, this can be telling. G Alias(es): Not all characters will have one, but for those who do... G Age: Real? Claimed? G Birthplace: You never know when this could be significant. G Current Residence: Could be different in summer or winter, etc. G Occupation: How do they make a living or spend their time? G Species: Not every story has only humans as characters...
G Nickname: What do their friends call them? Their enemies? G Sex: Male? Female? Eunuch? Hermaphrodite? Transgendered? G Birthday: Historical characters may not know the answer. G Citizenship: Pretty straightforward, even if the implications aren’t G Current Location: On vacation, a business trip, stationed abroad? G Income: Or wealth, and how did they get it? G Health: Any health problems, health history, etc.
G Height: How tall, in their own terms. (Feet, meters...) G Eyes: Colour and shape. G Glasses / Contacts: Describe if necessary. G Complexion: Dark skin or light, smooth or pockmarked, etc. G Right or Left Handed: Even this can make a difference... G Scars: Correlate with life history or other relevant sections. G Type of Dresser: Fashionable, sloppy, practical, Goth, etc. G Mode of Transport: Horse, car, spaceship, bicycle; description.
G Build / Weight: Stocky, burly, or slender? Pounds, kilos, stone...? G Hair: Colour, and don’t forget thickness, common state, etc. G Hairstyle: Describe as needed. G Description: Shape of face and body, overall appearance... G Tattoos / Piercings: Describe as needed. G Disabilities: Lame, deaf, blind, etc. G Self-Image: Attractive, ugly, attractive only when in a relationship? G Pets: Name(s), species, description
G Ethnic Heritage: The culture of the family, regardless of biology. G Accent: Region, class, etc. G Family History: What happened long ago can shape the present... G Highlights of Bio: The incidents in their life that shaped them. G Relationship History: Past friendships, romances, flings, etc.
G Childhood Home: Country, region, type of dwelling... G Education: Level: also, boarding school, homeschooled, etc.? G Skills: Learned at school, work, by private teacher, or self-taught. G Religion: What they formally profess; is it sincere, for form, etc.? G Current Relationships: Family, friends, spouses, lovers...
G Colour: What shades, what colour combinations do they prefer? G Book: Remember to stay true to your time and setting. G Movie: If your story is set in the future, invent one! G TV Show: And why? G Song: And why? G Type of Music: And why? G Type of Architecture: And why? G Place(s): Be as specific as possible. G Food(s): Try not to stick to the ones you like! G Type of Cuisine: Be as detailed as necessary. G Hobbies: List all that matter to the character (or once mattered). G Exit Line: Goodbye, See you, Ciao, Hasta la vista, Gotta run... G Pastime: How they’d spend most of their time, if they could.
G Animal: Domestic and wild. G Author: And why? G Actor: And why? G Actress: And why? G Singer: And why? G Type of Art: And why? G Artist: And why? G Environment: City, farm, forest? Nightclubs or street corners? G Drink(s): Alcoholic? Non-alcoholic? Coffee, tea, herbal tea? G Night out: Movies, dancing, talking, walking, drinking? G Vacation / Holiday: Go where, do what, with who, for how long? G Subject: In school, and in conversation. G Companion: A friend, family member, or pet? Which one?
G Catchphrase: What are they always saying? G Gesture(s): Scratch head, stroke chin, sniff armpits, tug earlobe... G Pickup Act / Line: Whatever they do to attract potential lovers. G Irritating Habits: Wants a taste of everyone’s meal, always late... G Other Habits / Tics: Bites nails, laughs when nervous, fidgets... G Quirks: Really strange ingrained habits or tendencies.
G Eating Habits: Must salt everything, sets napkin in lap, etc. G Drinking Habits: From container or glass, always buys a round... G Sleeping Habits: Reads a while first, always tosses off covers, etc. G Healthy / Unhealthy Habits: Smoker? Jogger? Binge eater? G Superstitions: Whether cultural or personal, the ones they follow. G Working Habits: Anything they must do to feel ready for work.
G How They Say Hello: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say Goodbye: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say Please: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say Thank You: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say You’re Welcome: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I’m Cold: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I’m Hot: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I’m Hungry: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I’m Thirsty: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I’m Tired: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I’m Drunk: In words and / or gestures.
G How They Say Yes: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say No: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say You’re Attractive: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I Love You: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I Hate You: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I Want You: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say Go Away: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say You’re An Idiot: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say You’re A Genius: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I’m Sorry: In words and / or gestures. G How They Say I’ve Had Enough: In words and / or gestures.
G Dream Occupation: What would they most love to do? G Dream Possession: What do they dream of someday owning? G Life Goal(s) / Ambitions: The things they want most in life. G Moral Beliefs: The things they believe are right or wrong. G Searching For: Their life’s quest, or things they believe they lack. G Ideals: Whether they embody them, or struggle towards them... G Sense of Humour: Puns? Practical Jokes? Sarcastic? Satiric? G What They Think of Themselves: What they think they’re like. G Strengths: Traits that help them or make them a better person. G Good Points: A good point can be a weakness, or neutral... G Attitude to Romance / Love: And the person they love. G Greatest Triumph: Describe their greatest triumph so far. G Greatest Boast: They may keep their real triumph a secret... G If They Won the Lottery: What would they do? G Philosophy: How they believe life, and the world, works. G Public Agenda: What they want everyone to think about them. G Running From: Truths about themselves they’d rather avoid. G Fears: Things that terrify or drive them, that shape their choices. G Opposing Forces: Those beliefs that, in the context of the story,
are likely to conflict or contradict each other and lead to tension.
G Dreaded Occupation: What do they think is the worst job ever? G One Thing They’d Never Own: Why? What does it symbolise? G Worst Nightmare(s): What do they most hope to avoid in life? G Vices: Things they or society believe are bad, that they can’t resist. G Blind Spots: What they can’t see in themselves, others, or society. G Prejudices: We all have them, including our characters. G Propriety: Things they have no sense of humour about. Why? G What Others Think: Family, friends, co-workers, rivals, enemies. G Weaknesses: Traits that hurt them or make them a worse person. G Bad Points: The worst, least likeable things about them. G Attitude to Revenge / Enemies: Vengeful or forgiving? G Greatest Regret: One choice they most wish they could change. G Greatest Secret: The thing they least want anyone else to know. G If They Had Six Months To Live: What would they do? G Attitude Towards Life: How they approach life and its surprises. G Hidden Agenda: Anything they’re trying to accomplish in secret. G Trying to Ignore: Truths about family or friends they won’t face. G Pettinesses: Things they can’t keep from being petty about. G Unexpected Omissions: Places your character has never been,
and things they’ve never done, that you’d expect they would have from where they live and what they’re like.