What You NEED to Know About Your Characters

Doug Landsborough
April 20, 2023

Writing fiction can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. As an author, you have the power to create a whole new world, one filled with unique characters, settings, and plots. 

But it can be a challenge to ensure your readers are invested in the characters you create. To do that, you need to develop your fictional characters with depth and complexity, allowing readers to connect with them on a personal level.

But what the heck does that even mean?

Well, when we boil it down, us authors need to know certain elements of our own characters in order for them to become deep and complex. That’s why there’s certain things you should know about each of your main characters.

In this article, we'll explore the essential elements that make up a well-rounded character. From their background information to their goals and fears, we'll delve into how these factors contribute to a character's overall impact on the plot.

Do you need to know your characters inside and out before you write? There’s arguments for both sides of that answer. It’s good to have a foundational understanding of your main characters before you get started, but these fictional people will also grow and change as you’re writing.

That said, what we cover in this article includes everything you need for a strong foundation. So let’s get started.

Background Information

The stuff that happens before your character’s journey can be just as important as what happens during it.

A character's background consists of their history, experiences, and circumstances that have shaped who they are in the present. It's crucial to establish a character's background because it helps readers understand their motivations, personality traits, and behaviors.

Creating a background for your characters can be as simple or complex as you'd like. Some writers create a detailed history that spans generations, while others provide what can barely be described as a general overview. 

Regardless of your approach, there are several key elements to consider when developing a character's background.

Family and upbringing play a significant role in shaping a character's personality and behavior. A character's relationship with their parents, siblings, and extended family can influence their values, beliefs, and how they interact with others. Their upbringing can also impact their worldview, socioeconomic status, and the opportunities provided to them.

Education and career choices can provide insight into a character's interests, skills, and strengths. A character's academic background and profession can influence their socioeconomic status, lifestyle, and relationships. Where did they go to school? Was it more of a hands-on approach? Are they happy in their current gig?

Socioeconomic status is another important element of a character's background. A character's financial situation can impact their attitudes, values, and behavior. It can also affect their access to resources and opportunities, creating or eliminating obstacles in their path. If you’re mirroring real-world struggles, socioeconomic status influences everything.

Culture and ethnicity are significant factors that can shape a character's worldview, values, and experiences. A character's cultural identity can impact how they interact with others and navigate their environment.

Lastly, traumatic experiences and life events can have a significant impact on a character's personality and behavior. Trauma can shape a character's fears, beliefs, and relationships, and can be a driving force behind their actions and decisions.

By understanding these key elements of a character's background, you can create a more dynamic and relatable character. 

Keep in mind that not every character needs a detailed backstory, but having a general understanding of their background can help you create a more cohesive and realistic character.


Now that we have a good understanding of a character's background, let's move on to another crucial element: personality. 

A character's personality refers to their unique set of traits, behaviors, and attitudes that make them who they are. A well-developed personality is essential for creating believable and relatable characters.

Personality informs a character's actions, decisions, and relationships. A character's personality traits can dictate how they interact with other characters and the world around them, as well as their motivations and goals. By creating a strong personality for your characters, you can make them more dynamic and engaging.

When it comes to developing a character's personality, there are several things to consider. 

First up, a character's personality should be consistent with their background and experiences. A character who grew up in a strict household may have a more reserved and disciplined personality than someone who grew up in a more relaxed environment.

A character's personality should be unique and distinguishable from other characters in the story. Each character should have their own set of traits and quirks that make them stand out.

Your characters should also be multifaceted and complex. People are not one-dimensional, so neither should your characters. A character should have a mix of positive and negative traits that create a realistic and relatable portrayal.

Furthermore, a character's personality should be dynamic and capable of growth and change. Characters should not be static and unchanging, but rather evolve over the course of the story.

Lastly, a character's personality should be relevant to the plot. A character's traits and behaviors should drive the story forward and impact the decisions they make.

A character's personality should be more than just a list of traits; it should inform every aspect of their existence in the story. And since their personalities are so core to your plot, you should know what they are.

Strengths and Flaws

A character's strengths and flaws are an essential part of who they are. These are the qualities that make a character unique and can have a significant impact on the story.

Strengths refer to a character's positive qualities, skills, and talents–not just thing’s they’re good at. In addition to that, strengths can help a character achieve their goals and overcome challenges. Having a strong set of strengths can make a character more likable and relatable to readers.

Flaws, on the other hand, are a character's negative qualities, weaknesses, or vices. They are the things that a character struggles with, which can make them more human and relatable. Flaws can also create conflict and tension in the story, as characters are forced to confront and overcome their weaknesses.

It's important to strike a balance between a character's strengths and flaws. Characters who are too perfect or flawless can come across as unrealistic and unrelatable, while characters who are too flawed can be difficult to root for or connect with. 

A well-rounded character should have a mix of both strengths and flaws that make them feel authentic and human. When developing a character's strengths and flaws, there are a few things to consider. 

Up first, their strengths and flaws should be consistent with their personality and background. For example, a character who grew up in poverty may have a strong work ethic as a strength, but may also struggle with trust issues as a flaw.

Secondly, a character's strengths and flaws should be relevant to the plot. They should impact the decisions a character makes and the challenges they face throughout the story.

Strengths and flaws should be dynamic and capable of change. As a character grows and evolves throughout the story, their strengths and flaws should also evolve.

Finally, a character's strengths and flaws should create conflict and tension in the story. Characters who have to confront their weaknesses and overcome obstacles can make for a compelling and engaging read.

These strengths and flaws, working together, will make your characters memorable… so you should remember them!

Goals and Fears

A character's goals and fears are the driving force behind their actions and decisions in a story. Goals are what a character wants to achieve, while fears are what they want to avoid or prevent from happening.

Goals and fears give your character a sense of purpose and motivation. They create a sense of urgency and tension, driving the plot forward as characters work towards achieving their goals and overcoming their fears.

When developing a character's goals and fears, it's important to consider their background, personality, and strengths and flaws. A character's goals and fears should be consistent with these elements, as they give the character a sense of authenticity and believability.

A character's goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). This means that they should have a clear understanding of what they want to achieve, how they plan to achieve it, and a timeline for achieving it. Goals that are too vague or unrealistic can make a character seem unfocused or uncommitted.

Similarly, a character's fears should be specific and realistic. They should be things the character would genuinely be afraid of, based on their personality and background. Fears can also be used to create tension and conflict in the story, as characters are forced to confront and overcome the things that scare them.

Goals and fears should also be interconnected. A character's fears may be related to their goals, or they may be obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. A character who wants to become a successful author may fear rejection or failure, which most of us can truly relate to.

Impact on Plot

A character's impact on the plot is intrinsically tied to all of their traits. It's important for a writer to understand how their characters' goals, fears, strengths, flaws, and personalities influence the plot and drive the story forward.

One way a character's impact on the plot can be enhanced is through their character arc. A character arc is the journey a character takes throughout the story, as they grow and change as a result of their experiences. 

A well-crafted character arc can elevate a character's impact on the plot, as readers become invested in the character's growth and development.

A character's impact on the plot can also be influenced by their relationships with other characters. Interactions with other characters can create tension, conflict, or provide support and guidance for the character's journey. 

By understanding how their characters relate to one another, a writer can create more complex and nuanced plotlines.

The decisions a character makes can also have a significant impact on the plot. A character's goals and fears can influence their decisions, and the consequences of these decisions can create ripple effects throughout the story. 

By understanding their characters' motivations and thought processes, a writer can create more organic and believable plot developments.

Finally, a character's impact on the plot can be enhanced by their unique perspective or voice. A character with a distinct perspective can offer insight into the story's themes and messages, or add a unique layer of depth to the plot. By crafting well-rounded and authentic characters, a writer can elevate their story and engage readers on a deeper level.

Let’s be real, if you don’t know how your character impacts the story, you have some work to do. Just having a character floating around without purpose results in an awkward character that readers won’t relate to.

Dabble Helps You Get to Know Your Characters

One of the best things about Dabble is how well it lets you get to know your characters. Not only can you write on any device, anywhere, with automatic syncing, but Dabble has spots specifically for you to make awesome characters.

The best part? You can store things like character templates, interviews, and more in a folder or note for each of your fictional people. 

And those will only be one click away from your manuscript when you’re writing.

You’re not going to know everything about each character right off the bat. That’s just not how it works, unfortunately. But being able to jump to the info you’ve created—their backgrounds, personalities, strengths, flaws, goals, fears, and how they impact your plot—whenever you need to.

All of that adds up until you’re an expert on your characters.

Want to try it out? You don’t even need to put in a credit card to get started with a 14-day free trial of Dabble. Just click here and get writing!

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.