The process of creating a character is as simple, or as hard, as you chose to make it. There are several different ways to create a character: questionnaires from role playing games, off the cuff, taking from people you know. But it all boils down to five basic facts that you need to know before you attempt to write a story about your character and they are name, age, appearance, personality and history.
A character’s name is as simple as a single name, used for all occasions, or as complex as a first, middle, last, rank, title, place of origin, awards and abilities. While both names can help the plot, always start with the simple name. This is the name you use most often to refer to the character, the name used by almost everyone who talks to the character and is the name your readers will use when thinking of the character. The other name gets trotted out for formal occasions or to express displeasure by an authority figure, and should be used sparingly to keep confusion to a minimum. This is also the time when you figure out code names and nicknames.
The age of a character is the easiest of the five facts. It’s a number, indicating a passage of time. How that time is determined is up to you as the writer. Sometimes how an age is figured can cross into the culture of the character’s people, or it can be used to illustrate how different places measure time. For instance, a person who is 21 on Earth could actually be 27 on another planet because of time differences, or if the person is a time traveler, the concept of age can be skewed because of how time changes.
The appearance of a character is as simple and complex as any other aspect of a character. The appearance of a character can be as simple as height, weight, hair, eyes, skin color and body type, or it could be expanded to include clothing styles, scars, birthmarks, hair style or physical movement. The appearance of the character is what you want your reader to picture when reading the story, consider choosing easy specifics and then let the rest of it slid a little. A reader might find the phrase heavy set to be easier to picture than the more specific 220 pounds. Try to choose phrases that convey the maximum imagery with a minimum of words.
The personality of a character is the most mutable. Characters change, they grow and develop as people over the course of a story, and they change more, the more often they appear. For best effect, choosing a few simple traits, such as hot headed, charming or a clown in the beginning and then seeing how your character changes over the course of each scene, chapter and story is your best bet. Be willing to change your character, because sometimes the character you think you’re writing isn’t the character that fits the story.
The final fact of character development is history. By history, there are the basics, where the character was born, and the family that raised them and any major events in their lives, good or bad. This is where you place the events that shape the character’s core personality, and where the story behind that embarrassing nickname or special honor may be written. Be as detailed as you want, but be prepared to add things as you go, because sometimes you just need to name that great-aunt who bought your character their first knife or detail just why your character hates certain events or people. A character’s history is as much a story of the character as the story you are preparing to write, the difference is that this is the story that your readers only get in bits and pieces. This is the story you are writing mostly for yourself.
While there are a variety of facts you might want or need to know about a character, using these five is a good way to start your character development. There are places on the web you can go to find character development sheets and places to go to ask people about this or that aspect of your character, but whether you chose to look into them is your choice and yours alone. Just remember, not every character needs a memoir for their life history, the janitor cleaning the floor when your character is confessing his greatest secret does not need the extent of development that the main character has, but that doesn’t mean that the janitor deserves less attention to detail than the main character.