Everyone creates characters differently. Some ways work well for some people and fail for others. This is the way that I happen to create characters. After I go through my method, I’ll go through a sample character.
I make lists.
I start with physical characteristics, age and gender. I define hair and eye color, height, and sometimes weight. I don’t go into the physical too much because it is not what defines the characters. Just give them a few defining characteristics to recognize them by.
Since I usually write fantasy, the next thing I do is decide if a character is going to be elf, human, fairy, etc, and what magic he/she has, if any. Sometimes, I also assign them a title, King, Queen, etc.
Personality traits are next. Just a few major ones, such as is the character outgoing or reserved, commanding or a follower, calm or impulsive. A method I tend to use is Cattell’s Big Five: Openness to new experiences, Impulsiveness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. How much does each of these play a factor in the character’s personality?
Personality traits often bring into light likes and dislikes. I make lists of hobbies that they have, things that they like, what they would go to great lengths to avoid, including food. Although sometimes this doesn’t happen until much later.
Occasionally, defining the character’s personality also creates a trademark outfit that they wear. A female character that is more warrior-like might defy tradition and wear trousers instead of a skirt. A male who is very arrogant might wear a signet ring to try to boost his status. This doesn’t always happen though. Sometimes, the characters just wear regular clothing.
This is the stage where I give them a name, once the physical characteristics and personality traits are worked out. For me, once I give a character a name, he/she becomes more real. The name is not always meaningful, sometimes it is just pretty. Other times I search babynames.com to find a name that means something. And sometimes I find a name by accident and it just fits the character.
The name establishes the character. Once that happens, I develop the character beyond who he/she is and create relationships. Who is the character the child of? Any siblings? Other close family relations, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins? Who are the character’s closest friends? Is he/she in a romantic relationship?
On occasion, the relationships have caused the character to change a bit. Maybe his/her parents cause the character to become more introverted because they are so overbearing. Perhaps a younger sibling brings out a fierce protective streak. The character doesn’t have to be set in stone. Like people, characters adapt and change to the environment and people around them.
This is generally where I stop the preliminary character development. More the character will be developed as I write. But this gives me a good base to start with so that I know who I am writing about. And this method isn’t set in stone. I skip steps while I’m making my list.
Now, for a sample character.
This character will be female, with sandy-brown hair and hazel eyes. She is almost 18 and about 5 ft. 4 in. And no, she isn’t going to tell you how much she weighs. She is a normal human, but she is the daughter of the town executioner, so most people avoid her. Since she is avoided, she in somewhat introverted; she is also disagreeable when it comes to people outside her family and even in her family she is very secretive. She is seen wearing black accessories- head scarf, belt, and boots- and sometimes a black top.
Darcy (Dark one) is the oldest child of the town executioner. There is a large gap between her and her younger brothers, almost ten years. And her younger brothers have a different mother from her; her mother left when Darcy was about six. Her father didn’t marry until she was nearly ten and that was because the woman was pregnant. She’s avoided her step-mother and brothers since then, nearly eight years.
From here, I can either jump right into the story or go through and create more characters, like the father and step-mother.