How to develop a three-dimensional character

Creating characters for your books isn’t as easy as coming up with a name, hair colour and eye colour. Making them three-dimensional requires brain power. You need to get to know your characters to make them jump off the page and a good way to getting to know someone is to ask questions.

Below are some questions you should ask your characters to find out what really makes them tick. (Please don’t do this in public because you may get caught talking to yourself. Nobody wants that.)

I’ll play along and create a character to give you examples.

What’s your character’s name?

  • Easy right? Well, sort of. Thought needs to be put into coming up with a name. You don’t want something that the reader will have trouble pronouncing, but you do want to make it something that sticks with your reader.
  • I’ll name my character Cadence McAlister, or Cade for short.

Does your character have any hobbies?

  • Your character can’t just sit around all day. They need to have an outlet…something that they love to do. Whether it’s sports, art, shopping, computer games, reading, or volunteering at the local animal shelter your character needs a hobby. It adds depth to your character.
  • Cadence loves to listen to old, vinyl albums. She often goes to yard sales to find vintage albums to play on the record player her grandmother gave her.

What is something your character always carries with them? Why?

  • You may not think this is important, but it is. When answering this question don’t immediately jump to the obvious like keys, wallet, money, or cell phone. Almost everyone carries around these things. Think of something only your character will carry. For instance, on my keychain I have a simple, hemp bracelet my husband gave me almost ten years ago. It’s dingy and falling apart, but I would be devastated if something happened to it.
  • In Cade’s pocket is an old guitar pick given to her by her father. It was a memento from her parent’s first date. She carries it because her father died of cancer two years ago and it reminds her of all the times they spent playing guitar together.

What is your character’s biggest fear?

  • Great question. Making your character face their fears is always fun, but knowing why they have that fear is also important. I think it’s important, at this point, to distinguish fear from phobia. Fear is a primitive human emotion. It is an instinct that protects us. A phobia, however, is when fear is out of proportion to the potential danger. But to that person, the danger feels real because the fear is overwhelming. So your character can have both fear and phobia.
  • Cadence has a fear of not living up to her father’s expectations. He was a distinguished neurosurgeon and he expected her to do the same. Her last promise to him was that she would graduate medical school and work on finding a cure for cancer. Now, here’s the kicker. She has a phobia of hospitals. Everything bad that’s ever happened to her has been inside of a hospital. When her father was diagnosed with cancer they were in the hospital. The first time she saw her father undergo chemotherapy they were in the hospital. And the last time she saw her father take a breath they were at the hospital. See the conflict.

What’s one thing your character could change about themselves?

  • We all have something we would change about ourselves. It can be hair color, weight, height, shoe size, financial standing, or erasing a scar. We all have insecurities, even those of us that are self-assured.
  • Cadence wishes she could change her eye color because every time she looks in the mirror she sees her dad staring back at her, reminding her of the person she’s supposed to be.

For time’s sake, I’ll post more questions below that can provide extra insight into who your characters really are…

  • How does your character dress?
  • What’s their favorite food?
  • If they could be anyone for a day who would they be?
  • Who inspires them?
  • Do they have any mannerisms like cracking their knuckles or shoving their hands in their pockets?
  • What ticks them off?
  • What makes them laugh?
  • Any distinguishing characteristics? Birthmarks? Scars?
  • Have they ever been in love? Had their heart broken?

Remember, the answers to these questions don’t necessarily need to be show up in your MS, but you should know them to make your character well rounded.

Signature-guest post

Kat Maxwell

Katrina Maxwell



Rebecca Berto is the author of Precise and Drowning in You. If you want book-release updates, please sign up at this form (email only when news, not weekly).

Follow Novel Girl by the buttons in the top left corner of the home page to stay updated.

6 thoughts on “How to develop a three-dimensional character

  1. Just spent a productive day figuring out the answers to Kat’s question for the main character in my new novel. Thanks again, Kat….and is that the Hoover dam? Ann

  2. Katrina, I thought your “getting to know your character” questions were different than some of the usual suggestions and intriguing, not only as a character exercise, but perhaps a personal examination as well. Your examples provided additional clarity. Thank you! Plan to post this to my Facebook timeline and tweet it. Ann

Please leave your comments (all welcome!):

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s