These questions are prompts to help you get to know your character and to help you develop one that is multi-dimensional and compelling for your novel or screenplay.

1. Describe your character's physical appearance (age,weight,height, hair & eye color, handicaps, physical mannerisms, etc.):

2. What is their general attitude toward people and experiences and ideas?

3. What is something your character does not know about him or herself?

4. Is there something their parents or another important figure passed on to them that leaves your character ill-equipped to handle the world or an event or relationship in their life?

5. What is your character’s WANT vs. NEED? (This is a very powerful element of character development that most writers neglect. We will share a lecture on this with our free email subscribers or Novel Lab students)

6. Does your character have any addictions? Do they drink, lie, cheat, do drugs, gamble?

7. What comes easy for your character? And what is difficult?

8. How do they react when people are mean to them?

9. What is their secret dream?

10. Who is their best friend or confidant? Do not underestimate how interesting this one element can make your story. Friends and confidants (or mentors) are great foils, plot devices, or entertainment and can make a story memorable or original. Shakespeare (with or without Christopher Marlowe) was a master at this; think Julius Caesar (et tu Brute?). The Godfather (yes, it was a book first) delves into the dangers of friends, family and confidants in fascinating ways. In Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget uses her diary in place of a traditional “confidant.” In Gone Girl, Amy’s parents and “best friend” are not only interesting confidants but add unexpected twists to the plot. In Deep Winter, the main character, Danny, finds his best and only friend murdered, and as he is hunted for the crime, a three-legged deer comforts and takes on great significance in the story. In Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s struggle to befriend and confide in or kill Peeta, plus her relationships with her actual mentor Haymitch are compelling. And, of course, Harry Potter’s friends at Hogwarts Academy are essential to the plot and Harry’s growth.

11. Does your character like themselves?

12. What characteristic are they trying to improve? Hint: there is usually an interior and exterior side to this.

13. How does their family treat them? How do strangers treat them?

14. How does your character react when people take advantage of them, dismiss them, or ignore them?

15. What are their needs and desires and expectations around affection or sex or love?

16. What makes them feel joy?

17. Does your character have extraordinary skills (athletic abilities, supernatural powers, artistic capabilities, people skills, etc.)?

18. Describe something your character has never told anybody about themselves.

19. Tell us one of your character's major flaws. These can be funny, tragic, or subtle. Harry Potter has a scar—one that ends up symbolizing a powerful thing that happened to him. Danny Bedford in Deep Winter is mentally challenged. In Gone Girl, Amy is a narcissist and her husband doesn't know how to stand up to her. He is also a cheater. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is terrible at showing emotion.

20. How will your character transform by the end of your story?

Now, grab a piece of paper to free associate any traits that come to mind or questions surrounding your character. Have fun.

If this was helpful to you, please like our facebook page. 

Visit for more tips and to view our online writing courses.

All information and graphics copyrighted by Novel Lab. 



National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun way to dip your feet into noel writing or inspire creative writing.  

Here are some TIP + tools we suggest to get you started:

  • Develop an interesting, rich, memorable character using our 20 Character Development Prompts. You can also view this as a free Video Lesson in our course preview (don't worry, there are no ads and we won't try to sell you on our course).
  • Know your Catapult. This is the event that kicks off your story. Without it, you do not have a story. Use this CATAPULT worksheet to develop your catapult.
  • Readers (agent & publishers, too) innately respond to a well-structured story. A well-structured story also helps a writer create a transformational arc for their characters. We created this handy story structure graph for our writing students. Hope it helps you, too.
  • Remember that writing a novel is not that different from creating magic. Okay, what we really mean is that writing a GREAT novel is not that different from creating magic. Don't believe us? Watch our Short Intro Video in our course preview; we explain what we mean by that.

Hope these lessons inspire you during #NaNoWriMo and beyond. If you're interested in learning more, please check out how we have helped famous, expert, and new writers create amazing books with the advice in our Online Novel Lab Character Development Class. You can also sign up for our quarterly free newsletter with tips and promo codes in the footer below. And, you can use the limited offer promo code: 20OFF thru November 30th to receive 20% off any course. View current course offerings at Novel Lab Online.

About the creators of Novel Lab


Critically-acclaimed novelists and book whisperers, Ayn & Samuel Gailey's work has been praised by The New York Times, Esquire, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, Good Reads, Stephen King, and editors at Random House, Harper Collins, Running Press, William Morrow and more. Most recently, they have helped their writers get their books onto the New York Times Bestseller lists.

Read more about Ayn & Sam's work helping writers. Use the limited offer promo code: 20OFF thru November 30th to receive 20% off any course. View current course offerings at Novel Lab Online.

Want vs Need

This concept is not discussed nearly enough when it comes to writing books or screenplays. Recently, we wrapped shooting a series of video lectures on writing that will appear on, and included is a lecture on Want vs. Need. These slide graphics were created to illustrate this concept in action. Hope they inspire something in you.

You can learn more about this concept and others through our free preview lectures on our online writing courses.


Q: Can you help with any kind of novel?

A: Honestly, our expertise is helping authors write novels and memoirs that are commercial and would be appealing to a fairly large market. Of course, we encourage originality and depth and the unorthodox, but we are not the people to help you write a 1000 page palindrome or an experimental novel told in only Haiku. Not that we don't appreciate these art forms, but our skills are best used to help writers who want to achieve something more mainstream.

Q: What are the advantages of being in your group session or downloading your online course rather than hiring you to help me one-on-one?

A: First, we only take one client a year for one-on-one help and those requests usually come through a publisher. Second, instead of paying $7k to $25k, you can pay $250 a month or a one-time fee as little as $49 (if we find the right online university to host our class!). We also offer a sliding fee and scholarships to passionate writers who have stories we think are amazing so nobody deserving escapes us. The goal is to help as many writers see their dreams come true as we can.

Q: Do you organize short term writer retreats? 

A: We do not. We like being in it for the long haul. And, there are already a lot of great retreats out there. If you're looking for one in the San Juan Islands, we've heard great things about Write Doe Bay.

Q: What can I get out of the Private Novel Lab Facebook Page you started and how do I join?

A: Anyone enrolled in any form of Novel Lab can join the Private Novel Lab Facebook page for no cost. This allows you to see questions by other writers and see our answers to those questions as well. You can also ask any questions you have and you will gain access to other guest writers, agents and literary managers that you may learn from. To join, just request an invite in the upper right corner when you go to the page. You can also follow us on our Public Novel Lab Facebook page where we will share some of the same information, but not answer questions.

Q: Is there any required reading for your Novel Lab Workshop in-person or the online version?

A: We ask that everyone has read at least one of the following novels because we will reference their plots and structure to illustrate points. The novels are Gone Girl, Harry Potter, Deep Winter, The Hunger Games.

Q: What if I decide I don't like the workshop?

A: Workshops can be refunded within three days after the first workshop. After the first week, no refunds will be given, however writers may find someone else to take their spot, offer their spot to someone on the waiting list who is willing to pay for it, or use their payment as credit for a future session.

Q: How do I know that I would like the group workshop? What would be required of me?

A: The group workshop is an intimate, supportive environment that can help writers meet their goals by offering deadlines, a chance to receive feedback on work, and the potential to learn from other writers, as well as a safe and inspirational haven. We do require that only writers who can maturely handle receiving and giving criticism take our workshop so that we can build the most creative and supportive environment possible. Because spots are limited we also ask that only writers who are super ready to commit to their projects step forward with us.

Please feel free to email us questions. We love answering them.


There's a crack in everything...

Often when a writer is having trouble with their story, when they are caught up with some perceived imperfection, a little delving (okay, maybe a little psychoanalysis, too) will help turn the "flaw" into some precious scene, or character trait or backstory or new way of writing that allows the heart of the story to shine through. Part of helping writers be successful is helping them learn to live with and sometimes embrace those things that make them uncomfortable. This is probably true for all kinds of artists.