Write backstories for your characters. Create their past lives and family history. Note their quirks, habits (good and bad), flaws, compulsions, fears, phobias, dark secrets, things that scare them in the night and make a list of every skeleton in their closet. Write down traits others might see as good, redeeming and to be admired. List things that make them likeable. It helps you understand them. It makes them “real.” Creating a past lets you create a future that’s real and plausible. Having this understanding leads to you knowing that a character would or wouldn’t “do that” or “say that.”
Try “casting” your script with a dream cast. Cast each principal role with the biggest name you can think of who is perfect for the part. See that $20 Million Star being the character you’re writing. Get photos of them and stick them up on a wall with their character name above the photo. When you’ve got Jack Nicholson speaking your lines, you find out very quickly the kinds of things he simply could not do or would not say.
Quirks Make Characters Interesting
Fiddles with glasses when talking.
Strokes head when thinking.
Smiles nervously when pausing in a conversation.
Quotes song lyrics (especially of a particular cult band.)
Repeatedly states “see, you really get it.” when conversing with someone.
Hugs all his friends.
Rolls eyes when bored or annoyed.
Says “see I always knew this would happen” whenever something weird happens.
Says “Oh, crap, it’s gone south on me.” when something bad happens.
Chases dogs with electrical appliances.
Stretches every time after standing, lifting something, during casual conversation, etc.
Absently bounces leg while sitting.
Contantly cracks knuckles, back, and/or joints.
Distracted easily during conversation.
Combs hand through hair often, especially when nervous.
Always has a book under arm or in pocket.
Carefully opens packages and saves wrapping paper (this is probably rather common in fantasy worlds).
Puts hand on your hand/arm/shoulder/leg when talking.
Has allergies. A lot of sneezing on dry days in spring-fall. To give more depth, give strong allergic reactions to the common nasty ones like nuts, bee stings, strawberries, MSG, cow’s milk, etc.
Gaseous (and no, that doesn’t mean transparent or foggy).
In conversation, if a word has slipped his mind, he’ll stop and think _and not give up_ until he finally recalls the right word
Often seems to go out of his way to answer the exact question that was asked of him instead what the questioner obviously meant
Fascinated by end-of-the-world novels
Loathes confrontation and will do anything to avoid it
Enjoys being left alone (gotta have common quirks too!)
Walks with an unusually quick pace. Once, after breaking his toe, discovered that he could _hobble_ faster than most people walked.
Enjoys thunderstorms, and finds them quite relaxing.
Lives on Italian food.
Thrives in cold weather, hates warm weather. Comfortable in T-shirt and shorts in mid-50s weather; starts sweating when the temperature goes above 75.
Allergic to cats (others)
Bites finger nails
Has a favorite tv/radio show
Uses lingo coined in books in regular speech (ie “embleer”,”horrorshow”, “grok”)
Thinks New Year’s is on the 4th of July
Won’t carry pennies; will toss them away in streets if he can’t spend them
Wears red socks with everything
Calls everyone “Darling”– even close friends
Wears only gold (or silver or turquoise…) jewelry
Tells “stories” with no point or conclusion
Argues points with people who agree with him
Thinks that any restaurant that you can’t wear jeans to isn’t worth visiting
Always wears a watch
Is consistently two to three hours late anyway
Refuses to delete the body of long posts when replying
Only wears rock band t-shirts
Hates leaving the house (not a very good one for most PCs)
Doesn’t drink alcohol
Easily confused by game rules
Makes up characters who can’t work with the party
Can’t say no to players who make up characters that can’t work with the party
Sings to himself, but can’t actually sing, and doesn’t know the words
Likes to sleep
Won’t see movies that were entirely plotted out in the preview, unless they’re not going to be really plot-heavy anyway
Insists on discussing things he doesn’t know about
Collects firearms or oddity
Poor vocabulary, spelling and grammar
Calls home all the time to check in
Makes derogatory comments about people who aren’t there
Roots for the predators on nature programs
Talks to people in other states or countries via the internet more than to people he sees face-to-face
Likes to dress like people half his/her age — “It’s hip”
Relates every new experience back to childhood ones, whether or not it’s appropriate
Concerned about going bald
Stutters when excited
Foams at the mouth when excited/angry
Takes everything personally
Always smooths the wrinkles out of what he/she’s wearing
Constantly tapping fingers or feet
Can never remember own age
Always gets a sunburn
Sneezes extra loud
Perfectly groomed nails
Thinks he/she can sing
Nosepicker (odious personal habit)
Calm under pressure
Can’t figure out what color clothing matches
Everything is a joke
Takes him/herself very seriously
Has trouble saying “no”
Makes goofy TV references for every occasion
Worries about making her boyfriend jealous by just saying “Hi” to another guy
Hesitates before speaking; always considers his words first
Nervous laugh before talking
Always laughs at his own jokes
Tells dirty jokes, even when not appropriate
Wants everyone to be his friend; tries too hard
Sees the world in a negative light
Drones when she talks
Hates quiet pauses in conversations
Always wears shorts, especially in winter
Always wears funny hats — jester hats, cat-in-the-hat hats, pith helmets etc.
Always wears black (or other color)
Refers to his black cat as “a matching accessory” at least twice an evening.
Doesn’t eat chocolate
Always carries an umbrella
Uses the word “psychic” instead of psychological
Is fond of malapropisms, or cannot help making them (e.g. psychotic for psychic)
Gratuitously pats other people’s necks
Attempts to turn every discussion into a religious argument
Always remembers everyone’s birthday
Always wears boots
Always wears thigh-length boots
Tries to make everyone fall in love with her
Believes in astrology
Believes all animals can talk to each other
Talks very softly, especially when involved in major arguments
Won’t drive faster than 40 miles per hour
Always drumming on things
Always relates things to TV shows/movies/books/songs
Can never remember names
Never uses contractions
Always carries a water bottle/flask, but hardly ever drinks from it
Likes to make arcane references
Always saying something like “You know, I’m gonna quit this job any day now,” but never does
Can never find clothes that fit just right
Calls everyone (males and females) “babe”
Annoyed that he’s losing his hair.
Lets women walk all over him.
Prefers the Pru to the Hancock. (For you fellow Bostonians)
Spends most of his work day frittering away time on the Net.
Collects Royal Assassins, up to 13 so far.
Don’t ever use their towel, hairbrush, toothbrush or anything that is considered to be for personal hygiene use. Has 4 towels in the house that is for their use only.
Doesn’t like backseat drivers. If driving and someone keeps shouting instructions, they stop and tell the other person to either shut up or drive themselves.
If at a dinner party, if they see someone take food out of any of the dishes by hand or eating off the spoon, they will not touch the food.
Leaves their meat (or whatever) for last on the plate.
When they shower, they always wash their left (or right) arm first.
Can shoot shooter glasses a very long distance with their mouth.
Doesn’t like shopping. Has to force themselves to do it.
Can’t handle “winking”
Roots author Alex Haley, for instance, takes elaborate showers before sitting down to write. He says he can’t think clearly until he is “pristinely clean.”
M.C. Hammer takes a different approach to his work. The dance-rap star can’t start a performance without gathering his 32-member crew for an inspirational prayer.