Creating a lead character for your novel can be a real challenge, especially if your aim is realism.

Consider asking yourself these 10 questions some easy, some a bit more complicated… and then answering them:

  1. When was your character born? Notice I did not ask you how old he or she is.  The reason?  Fixing the year of birth gives you a cultural background to work with, and will help determine your character’s philosophies and world view.
  2. Where was your character born? As with the year of birth, the place of birth can have a profound effect on the mind.
  3. How much schooling has your character had? The amount of education and the subjects studied will decide the kind of work your character does.
  4. What is the physical condition of your character? He or she does not need to be an athlete to have a rigorous adventure, but having an idea of the strength and stamina of your character may help.
  5. What does your character look like? Is your character plain?  Attractive?  Tall, short, thin, heavy?  What color hair does he or she have?
  6. What kind of work does your character do? An occupation presents any number of dramatic situations that can be used to develop the character’s emotional profile for the reader, and may lead to important plot devices.
  7. How does your character dress? Does he or she have a regular outfit?  A uniform?  A favorite scarf, tie pin, or pair of shoes?
  8. What kind of personality does your character have? Happy?  Driven?  Melancholy?  Is the character prone to depression?  Does the character joke at inopportune times?
  9. What kind of habits does your character have? Does he or she have a facial tic?  A speech impediment?  A nervous habit like fingernail biting or running fingers through hair?  Will your character stop to help a stranger?  Will he or she cross the street to avoid trouble?  These help your reader identify with your character.
  10. What does your Character want? This is perhaps the most important question you can ask.  What are the immediate goals?  What are the long-term driving forces?  Being sure of this… and more importantly, being able to express it, will go far in making your character live for your readers.

Keep in mind that the answers to these questions do not need to appear in your novel, but you need to know them in order to keep your character consistent.