If some newbie writer were to ask you how to better build a character from the ground up, what would you say to them?

Go on and tell me! How will you help them?

What advice will you give the newbie writer?


Ask 3 questions:

  1. Who are they?
  2. Why are they like that?
  3. Who do they want to be?

Awesome! For a second there, I thought you were talking about the newbie writer. LOL!

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Tell them that it’s okay for the character to develop and change, but remember that the core of their personality will always be the same. So, it’s important to choose at least one strong personality trait that is consistent no matter what happens in the story. Having more than one trait that never changes is preferable. But at least one strong trait that drives who that character is as a person should be present. It makes it easier to define and build off of the character later if you figure this out first, or at least early on when you are designing them.


I’d recommend K.M. Weiland’s books on character arcs

Oh and thematic principle. Build the character and the story around your thematic principle. All the best pieces of fiction do


There’s all sorts of things that will help make a more attractive character for your audience, but in general, the only thing I’d really like at is:

Their strengths are their weaknesses.
Their weaknesses are their strengths.

Hold onto that, and you have a chance of making a richer character.


I’d say:

—don’t copy anyone you like from the last anime you watched,
—learn about archetypes, drill down to the basics, then rebuild one as a character of your own
—improvise and record short banters between your characters and see if you can guess who speaks each line without seeing the name


I hate to ask, but you know a person who did this?


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Ooh, a fun question.

  1. Start with a general idea of what type of character it is. It’s okay to lean on tropes and archetypes. Let that be your starting point to build on top of.
  2. Don’t spend too long on figuring out a description. Just think about one or two details for start if you want or even leave it until later. In my experience, the character slowly morphs in my head as the time goes on. You don’t want to get too attached to something that would hold you back later. More important than the eye color is the story behind their appearance and you won’t know it immediately.
  3. Character questionnaires are fun but they can be difficult to fill out if you try too early and when it comes out blank, it’s discouraging. I’d start from essential story questions like:
  • What is this character’s role in the story?
  • Who are they in relation to other characters? Who are they friends with, whom do they hate?
  • What do they want? As easy as this question appears, I find that sometimes it takes a long time to lock it down but once you do, a lot of the story becomes clearer.
  • Once you know what they want, what’s stopping them from getting it? It could be external (other people, an apocalypse), internal (fear, conflict of interest), but there should be something that’s giving them problems.
  • What do they need? This is a fun one because it’s in contrast with the want. The need can also link to the climax of the story. You might not be able to answer this fully until later though once you know the character better.

For any of these questions, it’s okay if you can’t answer them immediately. Feel free to return to them later, tweak your answers.

  1. You’re getting to know your character, it’s time to dig deeper: backstory time. Think about an important moment in the past.
  • It could be a wounding event - something terrible happened (this establishes the roots of their greatest fear).
  • It could be something shocking - they never thought this could happen (this sets their worldview - they know things others don’t).
  • It doesn’t have to be sad either. It could be a triumph: they won because of X (This sets their misbelief that X always leads to triumph).
    The past shaped the character. What type of childhood they had. What social status they grew up in. What they had been told over and over again. What hard lessons they’ve learned.

Whatever you dream up for your character’s past, try to focus on what’s relevant to the story. It’s easy to get carried away with the backstory so focus on the past that impacts the present. The best stories are made when the character has to overcome their own shortcomings, it’s when this particular type of person is thrown in the worst possible place for them. Contrast is your friend.

Ok. I got wordy. I guess I should leave it at that. It would be too much to give a newbie more.


Give them some motivations that you’ll never reveal directly. Make the reader wonder why they say or do certain things. Easily understood characters aren’t as memorable.

Also, resist the temptation to make your characters perfect in any way. Flaws are interesting. But don’t make them perfectly bad either since that’s just boring.


Just write it out and see what happens. Sometimes characters reveal themselves in ways you could have never planned.


Pretty much this. This would be my main advice.
You can plan a character as much as you want, paint them as how you want them. But writing and planning are so different. Characters grow and change just like we do. You can plan as much as you want but sometimes they change when you’re writing and that’s okay. In fact I love it when that happens.
My characters always take me on the journey with them and that’s what I love about writing.


It’s okay to take inspiration from anime though. Like yeah don’t copy but it’s alright to want to make another Akira or Dragon Ball Z, something that uses those characters as comps.


Not without drilling down to the archetype, imo. Each character in anime is basically a spin on an archetype, so my feeling is that the sooner someone new to writing learns to see it and customize for themselves, the better. That avoids a ‘just like, only their hair are green’ stage.

  1. I would tell them that I’m not a subject matter expert, and point instead to someone who is.
  2. Just write. The character will come to you.
  3. If they insisted on getting something from me, I would tell them to figure out the character’s personality. Pick three attributes to give the character. Then expand on these by putting the character in various situations and seeing what they do.
    Then put the character in the situation of the story, and make the story based on the character’s decisions.
    This would ensure that the characters are driving the story, and not the other way around.

But if they already have a plot, I would tell them to reverse engineer the same process. Instead of looking at how a character would react, I would look at the reaction and then see what character trait made them make that choice.

  • Talk to your characters. (Role play, character interviews etc).

  • Try to avoid following arcs and stereotypes to the tee and if you are gonna use them, twist them a bit.

  • Make sure that your characters have personalities of their own. If you have two with similar personalities either change one or delete them.

  • Make character playlists. It helps a lot.

  • Look at real life people. See how they act. Get inspiration from them.

  • Do personality tests. Those are fun.


I guess I don’t want to discourage new writers from enjoying the things that they take inspiration from and from using those characters are comps. We all have to do archetypal work no matter where we get our ideas from, but it’s completely okay to write characters inspired by something that you enjoy, then doing the character work to make them your own. Sometimes characters start out with a ‘only my hair is green’ stage, but throughout the drafts they become their own people, especially as authors learn more about the craft of making characters. It’s okay for characters not to be fleshed out or original completely right out the gate, they’ll get there eventually. I just don’t like discouraging new writers from enjoying their comps and enjoying their work. Like hell if someone has a main character that is too much like an anime archetype but they are loving the process of making their first draft, then let them enjoy the damn thing, and allow them to discover their own original characters later in the process.


I’m giving the advice which I think is solid and helps avoiding pitfalls. If people want to know why, I can explain it. If they take it as discouragement… :woman_shrugging: When threads like that pops up, I always see tons of ‘find your own way! Just keep writing!’ etc. well, they already have it, I don’t see the point of repeating it.

Some people need advice like mine. I know, I look for advice like that, not the ‘just do it your own way and enjoy’ kind.


This makes me uneasy. Like the whole people watching thing really makes me uneasy for some reason.


Fair enough but have you ever watched them from a distance? I go to a supermarket and it has an upstairs cafe and I used to get a coffee and look down at people and watch them from above. No one noticed me.