For some writers, characters pop into being fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s forehead. For others, creating a character is a bit more laborious, filled with uncertainty where to start or what’s needed before they can start writing. Maybe the idea is more plot focused, or more about exploring an idea than a deep character journey, and those writers want to dive in and get started without hours of character development.
If creating characters don’t come easy to you (or even if they do and you just want to try something new) why not make a game out of it?
I recently wrote about the five major character personality traits, and these are great first steps to creating a character if you’re not sure where to start. They are:
- Openness/Intellect: Levels of curiosity and creativity, imagination and independence, how one responds to new experiences.
- Conscientiousness: Levels of organization and work ethic, self discipline and ambition, planning vs. spontaneity.
- Extraversion: Levels of sociability and enthusiasm, assertiveness and talkativeness.
- Agreeableness: Levels of friendliness and kindness, cooperative and trusting, how well-tempered someone is.
- Neuroticism/Emotional Stability: Levels of calmness and tranquility, confidence and sensitivity.
And for this activity, let’s add a #6: Desire/Need: The type of goal they’re after.
The Pick Six Game
What you’ll need: Six-sided dice or a random number generator, something to write down answers, your imagination.
The Rules (and I use the term loosely, as this is all about the fun):
- Choose traits for each category that fit your story. For example, for openness/intellect, you might choose “openness,” “curiosity,” and “independence.”
- List six options for each trait, ranging across the complete scale. For example, for openness, you might say “very open” at the top and “not open at all” at the bottom.
- Roll a six-sided dice or generate a number for each trait. Write that trait down. Do it for as many traits per category as you like.
- Adapt those traits to fit each other and your story.
- Create your character.
If you’re stuck on what to pick, here’s a sampling of possible options for each trait. Sometimes you’ll get things that seem to contradict each other, but treat those as opportunities to create an interesting character. The person who loves people but hates large groups has a reason for those two traits to co-exist, and that could make for some very interesting backstory and behavior.
Openness/Intellect: Levels of curiosity and creativity, imagination and independence, how one responds to new experiences.
- Loves new and varied experiences or Very curious or Very independent
- Open to new experiences in general or Fairly curious or Fairly independent
- Open to new experiences that are familiar or Somewhat curious or Somewhat independent
- Hesitant about new experiences or A little curious or Somewhat dependent
- Prefers not to have new experiences or Not very curious or Rather dependent
- Hates new experiences or Never curious or Very co-dependent
Example: I rolled a 2, 5, and 3 and got a person who is open to new experiences in general, but not very curious, who is also somewhat independent. So maybe they like to do their own thing, but if a friend drags them to try something new they’ll usually go along with it.
Conscientiousness: Levels of organization and work ethic, self discipline and ambition, planning vs. spontaneity.
- Control freak or Stoic or Personally driven
- Very organized or Very disciplined or Very ambitious
- Rather organized or Fairly disciplined or Has ambition
- Likes to plan or Spontaneous or Content with the status quo
- Rather unorganized or Tough to motivate or Rather lazy
- Very unorganized or Very undisciplined or Not ambitious
Example: I rolled a 4, 5, 6 and got a person who likes to plan, is tough to motivate, and isn’t very ambitious. So maybe they like to figure things out ahead of time and have no desire to change those plans once they’re made.
Extraversion: Levels of sociability and enthusiasm, assertiveness and talkativeness.
- Loves being around people or Fanatic or Overbearing
- Enjoys people or Intense or Decisive
- Comfortable with people or Eager or Confident
- A little shy or Calm or A little hesitant
- Prefers to be in small groups or Reserved or Fears confrontation
- Prefers to be alone or Never gets emotional or Meek
Example: I rolled a 1, 5, 5 and got a person who loves being around people, but is reserved and a little meek. So maybe they like being with people (or are scared to be alone?) but prefer to watch rather than join in.
Agreeableness: Levels of friendliness and kindness, cooperative and trusting, how well-tempered someone is.
- Puts others first or Team player or Trusts everyone
- Cares about people or Works well with others or Trusts most people
- Is nice to everyone or Likes to help or Trusts those they know
- Is polite to everyone or Does their part or Unsure of strangers
- A bit standoffish or Not good in groups or Suspicious
- Mean or Total loner or Paranoid
Example: I rolled a 3, 4, 5 and got a person who is nice to everyone, does their part to help out in groups, but is suspicious of those around them. So maybe they’ve been burned a lot in the past, and while they’re still willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, they’re expecting others to pull something or let them down and aren’t going to risk themselves.
Neuroticism/Emotional Stability: Levels of calmness and tranquility, confidence and sensitivity.
- Always calm under pressure or Very confident or Overly Sensitive
- Hard to ruffle or Believes in themselves or Empathetic
- Cool in most situations or Trusts their decisions or Compassionate
- Gets nervous when things are bad or Has occasional doubts or Self interested
- Overreacts or Second-guesses things or Apathetic
- Panics at the first sign of trouble or Can’t make a decision or Insensitive
Example: I rolled a 5, 1, 5 and got a person who overreacts, but is very sure that they’re right, and doesn’t care about what others think. So maybe this is someone who firmly believes things and can’t be talked out of them and doesn’t even want to hear what others might think about it.
Desire/Need: The type of goal they’re after.
- To escape something
- To achieve something
- To reach something
- To prevent something
- To find something
- To change something
Example: I rolled a 2 and got a person who is trying to achieve something. So maybe they want a job, or a promotion, or to become the lead wizard or captain of the next starship.
If I put this all together, I get a person who is open to new experiences in general, but not very curious, who is also somewhat independent. They like to plan, are tough to motivate, and aren’t very ambitious. They love being around people, but are reserved and a little meek. They’re nice to everyone, do their part to help out in groups, but are suspicious of those around them. They overreact, but are very sure that they’re right, and don’t care about what others think. Their goal is to achieve something.
Different people can interpret these traits in different ways, but I see someone who has a small, tight group of friends they trust and enjoy being with, and they have little desire to expand that circle or change the way things are. Once they get an idea in their head it’s hard to change their mind, and that can sometimes cause problems. Since the goal is to achieve something, maybe their problem is they need to break out of this safe environment for the first time and they don’t know how to do that. Or maybe, the group is changing and they can’t deal with that and want things to remain the same.
If I wanted to put this character into an existing novel I’d have more specific details here, but you should be able to see a character who can probably be dropped into any story and adapted to fit that story.
Naturally, add your own traits or change the levels on any of these to suit your story world or personal tastes better. You might even create a basic character template as a baseline for any new characters in the future, or to flesh out existing characters.
Try creating a character now and see what you come up with. Share in the comments!
Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.