Simple Ways To Fill Out & Humanize Your Character

Looking to make your character more three-dimensional? Trying to think up a few ways to make the character come off as a bit more human to your audience? Here are some ways you can do this - both in terms of your character's history and personality, and in terms of what you do with your character in the actual story.

Before proceeding, keep a few things in mind, though!

1. When it comes to the stuff that relates to your character's backstory, you don't need to come up with everything at once. And while you should try to do as many as you can, you don't need to do all of them. Also, coming up with stuff that covers multiple items at once is perfectly acceptable, even awesome.

2. Anything you come up with that relates to your character's past, personality, or identity means nothing if you never actually show or allude to it. While you needn't necessarily show off everything (and certainly not all at once!), you should try to weave it through the overall story when you can - whether it's through making a plot arc or subplot that relates to it, or through your character's words and actions. See Dropping In Characterization Without Dragging The Story for tips on the latter.

3. Also, everything should be taken on an "as applicable" or an "as needed" basis. If an item on the list doesn't fit the setting, doesn't apply to type of character you're going for, would simply be impossible for some reason or another, or might just be overdoing it on top of what you're already doing, don't worry about it.

Now, let's get started!

Your Character's Past & Persona

  • Is your character supposed to be good? Ask yourself what some things are that make your character not a completely and totally good person.
  • Is your character supposed to be bad? Ask yourself what some things are that make your character not a complete and total monster in every regard.
  • Is your character supposed to be right most of the time? Come up with a few things your character is wrong about.
  • Is your character supposed to be wrong most of the time? Come up with a few things your character is right about.
  • Come up with some stories for your character. They don't necessarily have to be sensational one-in-a-million events, either. What's something funny that happened to your character? What about embarrassing? Sad? Heartwarming?
  • Think up at least one bad that happened to your character... that your character is at least partly responsible for.
  • Think up one good thing that your character caused to happen to someone else.
  • Think up one bad thing your character caused to happen to someone who didn't deserve it.
  • Think up at least one event or series of events that encouraged your character to be a better person - and has nothing to do with the setting's major characters.
  • Think up one thing your character did that your character feels good about.
  • Is there anything your character is really good at now? Think up some ways your character might have fumbled or failed early on when learning the skill.
  • Think of something that forced your character to change in order to adapt to new circumstances - and not through gaining a new power or a kickass/glamorous skill.
  • Figure out a few "real people problems" that your character faces - IE, problems and annoyances that everyday, average Earth people face. Go here for examples.
  • Figure out a few embarrassingly ignorant or ridiculous things your character did in the past.
  • If your character is a supernatural or superpowered being, figure out some things that bother, disturb, or even scare the willies out of your character that have nothing to do with being a superpowered/supernatural being, and aren't irrational or in some way ironic.
  • Try to come up with at least one event or moment that totally blew your character's mind and had nothing to do with any of the setting's major characters. Figure out what kinds of things still blow your character's mind.
  • Figure out a few things that get your character emotional that have nothing to do with your character's dreams and ambitions. Think about why your character feels emotional over these things.
  • Try to come up with at least one time your character had to choose the lesser of (at least) two evils. Think about the reasons why your character made that choice and not the other. Think about how your character feels about it now.
  • Give your character at least one thing xe deeply and truly believes in, and make it a little more specific and unique than "believes in love," "believes in fighting for justice," or "believes that humans are pathetic/terrible."
  • Give your character a family. Make that family a mix of good, bad, embarrassing, awkward, helpful, unhelpful, caring, callous, and anything else a family might be. Give both good and bad traits to at least some of the same family members.
  • Figure out what your character does when not on the job. Figure out what your character does to relax and wind down.
  • Figure out a few people and/or things your character cares about - and not in a possessive or protective way.
  • When you're working on picking out your character's hair and wardrobe, first try to pick something that says something about your character's personality, history, or identity. Put trying to make your character look stylish, attractive, or badass second.

Your Character In The Here And Now

  • Show your character putting real, strenuous, and even frustrating effort into getting the plot-important stuff done. Let there be little setbacks and snags along the way.
  • Show your character having to fight back negative emotions (and not just sadness or anger) to get something plot-important done. Show that it's a struggle.
  • Let your character sometimes fail or lose, both in things that are part of the plot or that are just mentioned in passing.
  • Show your character looking unkempt and mussed up for relatively boring and mundane reasons, as well as any time it would just make sense (EG, after a long night of hacking the villain's mainframe!). Don't play it up as something that makes your character significantly more attractive.
  • Does your character have a job considered glamorous or exciting? Show the parts of it that are boring, and show that they are boring. Show your character having to knuckle down and get it done.
  • Show your character feeling. Show your character feeling happy, angry, enraged, sad, confused, scared, hurt, disgusted, desperate, amused, excited, exuberant, content, bored, surprised, amazed, blown away, and anything else that fits what's happening in the story.
  • Show your character being vulnerable, whether physically and/or emotionally - and not in a way that facilitates a romantic subplot.
  • Show your character having no idea what to do now.
  • Show your character having to get up and push on as best as possible despite being afraid, vulnerable, or not knowing what to do now - and without anyone's help.
  • Show your character liking or enjoying something that has nothing to do with a love interest or someone your character looks up to - a hobby, a sport, an activity, a TV show, anything - even if it's when no one else is watching. Don't be afraid to make it simple, frivolous, odd, or silly, either.
  • Show that your character is attached to an something - be it a place or object - and not because it's associated with, belonged to, or was gifted from an absent or dead person.
  • If your character is attached to something that's associated with or came from a dead or absent person, make it an ordinary, everyday item or place - something that the absent/dead person used or visited on a regular basis.
  • Show your character having sympathy or empathy for other people's problems. Or if your character has difficulty with that, show your character being frustrated over being unable to sympathize or empathize with others.
  • Show your character getting a little bit cocky, and getting shot down by someone close.
  • Show your character facing minor annoyances or inconveniences that just about anyone might face.
  • Show your character doing or saying something embarrassing, being awkward, or making a faux pas in a way that might happen to anyone.
  • Show your character having to apologize or take something back - where the one being apologized to is not a love interest.
  • Let your character's flaws make it hard for your character to get what xe wants.
  • Show your character basking in the warm glow of victory.
  • Show your character change and develop. Show your character try and learn to appreciate new things. Show your character's mind change over time.

See also:
Quick & Dirty Characterization Tips & "Cheats"
Character Development Questions
Character Creation & Development Theory (Or, How To Make Characters 101!)
Dropping In Characterization Without Dragging The Story

Building Better Backstories - Tips & Ideas
Basic Tips To Create Better Characters With Tragic & Traumatic Backstories
On Giving Your Characters Flaws & Weaknesses
Tips For Writing Dark Stories, Settings, & Characters
Core Drives: What They Are, And Why Your Characters Need Them

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