Who am I?

Where am I?

What time is it?

What do I want?

Why do I want it?

How will I get what I want?

What must I overcome to get what I want?

Above are the seven questions for character building created by Constantin Stanislavski, who many consider to be the father of modern acting. As a writer, the above may seem simplistic, but it’s obvious these provide a good foundation for slipping into the mind of your character — and thus, better understanding them.

The better you understand your character, the more defined their motivations will be within your story. It’s possible to write a complete plot, packed with adventure, and not fully portray to the audience the complete why of why your character is on this journey because your character isn’t yet a breathing, graspable entity. An effective way to fully understand your character, their motivations, the way they operate, the way they move…is to build your character as an actor would.

“The key to creating better plots rests in a deeper understanding of character.” — Kristen Lamb, Great Characters–The Beating Heart of Great Fiction.

Who am I?

Obviously, the most important, broad wondering that leads to questions such as:

Who is your character, really? Where did they grow up? What was their childhood like? Who were their parents? What events during their formative years shaped the way they view the world and carry themselves? What scars are etched into their heart? Create detailed answers to all of these and you’ll be well on your way to creating a character so alive they pop off the page.

Where am I?

Is the character inside or outside in this scene/chapter? Are they in a familiar place that inspires sentiment? Or is everything unfamiliar, and culminating in a feeling of discomfort?

What time is it?

Is it the 1800’s? The present? The future? This broadly plays into your character’s voice and manner.

Does your character’s mood differ from day to night? I don’t know about you, but I tend to take more risks at night. There are things you feel comfortable doing by moonlight (or streetlight), that you wouldn’t when the sun is out.

What happened right before this scene or chapter — and how does that affect your character’s demeanor now?

Photo by Ruca Souza from Pexels

What do I want?

While a character always has an overarching objective throughout a novel, there are always additional objectives that can be layered or varied — and switch from scene to scene or chapter to chapter.

Why do I want it?

The driving force within your character. Define this and it will add conviction to their actions.

How will I get what I want?

What tactics does your character employ when interacting with others to reach their objective? If their first tactic doesn’t work, what tactic do they switch to?

What must I overcome to get what I want?

There are always obstacles — but are they external, internal, or both? In addition to the apparent external obstacles (ex: They must kill the king, find the wizard to break the curse, etc.), define an internal conflict for your character to add depth and relatability.

Bonus: Physicality

The physicality of your character is important and plays a significant part in how they come across on the page.

The Alexander Technique has been taught for over a century and utilized by writers and actors such as George Bernard Shaw and Paul Newman.

The Alexander Technique can be explained as a method to help you identify and lose the harmful habits you have built up over a lifetime of stress. It works to strip you of detrimental physical habits that you practice, created as responses to factors either physical or emotional. Why you tend to clasp your wrist when standing, slouch crookedly, or walk with an awkward gait may not be immediately explainable. I tend to place more weight on my right foot when standing still and I don’t know why.

But though we may never fully know ourselves, characters can be fully knowable to their creators. What unusual physical behaviors does your character display, if any? And why?

This goes beyond such things as a limp due to a childhood accident. Does your character tend to tilt their head more to one side? How do they carry themselves when they walk? Do they chew their lip when nervous, and if so, why/how did that develop?

You can even create a character’s physicality and work backward to fully define the character. Personally, however, I like to define the majority of a character first, then develop their physicality as a last step.


What is your method for character development? Do you feel like you have to fully know your characters? Or do you prefer for your characters to remain enigmatic even to yourself?

Aisha Tritle is a novelist, playwright, actress, singer, marketer and tea fiend. She completed two One-Act Comedies in 2016: of which, two were published and one recently performed in the U.K. Her next novel, an adult dystopian sci-fi, will be out in fall 2019 from Kyanite Publishing.
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Aisha Tritle is a novelist, playwright, actress, singer, marketer and tea fiend. She completed two One-Act Comedies in 2016: of which, two were published and one recently performed in the U.K. Her next novel, an adult dystopian sci-fi, will be out in fall 2019 from Kyanite Publishing.

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