The Three Guidelines for creating the Most Compelling Characters


Characters can be human, animal, alien, magical or divine. They can even be part of the plant family. In fact, diversity is the beauty of characterization. However, to form those realistic, relatable and compelling characters, there are some common guidelines to keep in mind. This is by no means an effort to restrict your creative abilities or goals. So feel free to break them at your own cost!

1. The Interview!

What characters “are” is largely defined by what they like, love, hate, fear and accept. To get a clear, logical perspective of their personalities, you need to interview them. Place yourself in your character’s shoes and ask yourself a number of questions, both generic and specific to the storyline. Don’t hesitate to visit the smallest of details when necessary, though it may feel like you are shamelessly stalking your own imagination.

Generic: These questions are to be asked to every individual character who is a part of the story. Similar questions can also be directed at a group of personas, given a mutual background.

  • What’s your name, age, gender, nationality?
  • What are your physical features?
  • Who are your family, friends and community?
  • What are your skills? How did you acquire them?
  • What do you love or hate? Why?

Specific: In addition to the generic questions, the specifics are to be asked to characters who are vital to the story. Your protagonists, deuteragonists and antagonists are subject to these type of questions.

  1. What do you prefer to eat in the morning? Do you get to eat it?
  2. Do you have an interesting story from before you were ten?
  3. What song do you listen to most when you are alone and tired?

Note: I highly recommend that you try the interview on yourself first.

2. Oh My Humanity! 

I trust that, by at least 99.9 percent, the stories you write are going to be read by creatures called humans. What they would love to get is characters that they can relate to and not characters that they can never comprehend.

Remember that the interview is for your personal use. So, don’t give too much away. Don’t let them see only too little. Don’t shove it down their throats. Don’t keep it beyond the horizon. Keep it mysterious and beautiful, not confusing and unpleasant. Hold the details that ought to be held. Repeat the ones that must be repeated. Remember that you are fostering not just an idea, but a relationship.

Ask yourself and ask the people around you:

  • What character would you love to hear about?
  • What character would be an amazing friend, parent, child, lover or enemy?
  • What character would inspire you?
  • What character would leave you restless for days?
  • What character are you dying to know about?

3. You did what?!

What a person does, does not completely define him/her. But, what you say a person is doing, does define the way he/she is perceived. News reporting is a perfect example of this. This is why I separated the sections of like, love, hate, fear and accept from the sections of actions done.

  • Verbs like flustered, blushed, sighed, chuckled, grinned, smiled, blinked, winked, cried, screamed, heckled, hugged, kissed, slapped, slurred, drooled, punched, pinched, scratched, kicked, fell, jumped, put, cut and,
  • Phrases like his palms met his forehead, she timidly brushed her hair back, the child clenched his teeth, the creature howled into the night sky…

give the reader the right understanding and freedom of opinion at the same point of time. Take care not to overdo it. It might get extremely descriptive and boring. But remember, it is these simple sentences that give birth to a breathtakingly complex character.

So, those are the three guidelines that will help you create the most compelling characters. Wishing you the best of characterization!

Image Credits: Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

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