Build character by looking at his values

Successfully building a character in a story almost always is the one challenge a writer absolutely must get right. It’s also often the most difficult challenge facing any writer.

To create a character, first ask yourself, “What matters most to him?” It might be duty, proving oneself to his father, knowing the truth, helping others, or any of a thousand other values that motivate people to behave in a specific way. Upon determining this value, devise a set of physical features and personality traits that lend themselves to revealing it.

Hence, don’t give a male character “blond” hair simply because that’s how you envision him. Instead, this blondness ought to serve a purpose – perhaps it shows him as youthful or possibly it’s because he spends a lot of time outdoors so the sun has “bleached” his hair color. This can be difficult as the more important a character is to a story, arguably, the more physical description of him should be given.

Of course, these qualities should result in a believable character. Even if writing genre fiction, you’re aiming for verisimilitude. Without that, readers will have difficulty identifying with the character.

Such believability can be established by creating the character in the world where your story occurs. That is, every character is extrapolated from a culture. Hence, a modern-day character who is a rogue might wear long, unkempt hair as would a pirate, but he probably wouldn’t don shorts with puffed sleeves and wear breeches, which are clothes out of the 1500s.

Another way to establish believability is to ensure that every reader understands how the character came to be the way he is. This may require you to create a biography or resume for your character; the bio and resume wouldn’t be provided in its entirety to readers but can help you as a writer think through how the character came to be the person he is. The relevant details then would be included in the story.

Always remain flexible as creating a character. Just because you’ve devised a character’s history, you’re not stuck with or limited to it. A character’s background can be changed as necessary while you write the story and develop him. The only rule is to be consistent in the presentation of the character’s background.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.