Fiction Writing Tip #2: Developing Believable Characters

NCWA welcomes Jeanne Marie Leach in the second of three Thursday posts on Fiction Writing Tips.

Characters are tantamount to your story.

Without interesting, believable characters, there is no story.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the character fit the story?
  • Does the name fit the character?
  • After asking yourself these questions, create a character chart for each of the main characters. Cut and paste the character chart below into a MS Word document and print off as many as you need for each book you write. Feel free to add spaces or lines as you see fit.

Keep each in your notebook for reference. You’ll be surprised how many times you will refer back to it in the course  of writing your book. Several times during the writing process, I’d forgotten what color eyes or hair my heroine had. Having it written down in an easy to find source will help your characters remain true to themselves.

  • The better you know your characters, the better your writing will be. We are all mixtures of good and evil, scars and handicaps (some emotional); so don’t create perfect characters. A good novel is what’s going on inside the character and how they react to change.
  • Get a book on color tones so that you know what colors your characters should wear (i.e. winter, spring, summer or fall).
  • Get pictures of your characters from whatever source you can. Magazines, photographs and drawings can be great resources.

When you find a representation of what you picture in your mind how your character looks, glue it onto a sheet of paper and file it in your notebook along with their character chart.

  • Remember, villains must have some good in them and the hero some bad.
  • Frequently your character’s weakest traits will be why they change in the end, and the strongest traits will often get them in trouble the most.
  • The more different your characters, the less boring your stories will be.

Now let’s look at a basic character chart. This not only helps you remember what your character looked like, but some basics about them. This can be as detailed as you wish. I’ve known writers who write as many as fifty pages on their characters before they begin their book. Again, remember that this isn’t a set formula. You need to develop writing habits that suit your writing style, not someone else’s. But a basic character chart will help you build believable characters your readers will either love or hate.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


1. Name of Book
2. Name of Character
3. What is this character’s role in the book?
4. Age
5. Height
6. Weight
7. Hair Color
8. Color of eyes
9. Scars, handicaps (physical, mental, emotional)
10. Sense of humor – describe
11. Basic nature
12. What does this character want most (their goal)?
13. Philosophy of life
14. Hobbies
15. Kinds of music, art, reading preferred
16. Favorite colors
17. Educational background
18. Work experience/occupation
19. Best friend
20. Enemies and why
21. Family background (economic, social, nationality, religious, parents)
22. Description of home (physical, emotional atmosphere)
23. What are this character’s strengths?
24. What are this character’s weaknesses?
25. Sees themself as…
26. Seen by others as…
27. Most important thing to know about the character
28. How does character react when in the following situations: angry, sad, happy


** All these are taken from Jeanne’s book, WRITING BASICS FOR BEGINNERS and are copyrighted. **

Jeanne Marie Leach is a multi-published fiction author, freelance editor, speaker, writing coach, and teaches fiction editing. She judges the Genesis Contest and the Carol Awards and has mentored beginning writers, many of whom have gone on to win or final in writing contests and  are now published.

 Jeanne Marie Leach

Author * Speaker * Freelance Fiction Editor * Writing Coach


One thought on “Fiction Writing Tip #2: Developing Believable Characters

  1. Thanks for the helpful tips. Several years ago, I used a similar chart and wrote the characteristics of each member of my family as part of a memoir writing class. I have nine siblings and over thirty nieces and nephews so I have many character sheets. It’s good to go back and refer to them when I write about a relative in my written work. Perhaps one or two of my family members will show up in a future novel. I’ve got plenty to choose from.


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