This character questionnaire belongs to Gail Carson Levine. It’s in her book, Writing Magic. It’s probably one of the most helpful things I have ever come across. Just fill it out- definitely for your main character- but also for any other characters that seem a little blurry.
Nickname, if any:
Kind of being (human, animal, extraterrestrial, fantasy or fairy-tale creature):
Occupation, if applicable:
Describe his/her room:
Way of speaking:
Physical characteristics (posture, gestures, attitude):
Items in his/her pockets or backpack or purse:
Talents, abilities, or powers:
Relationships (how (s)he is with other people):
What (s)he wants more than anything else:
I added the history part at the end myself. Just explain the character’s background a little bit. What has happened in his/her life up until this point?
Notice how the character’s motive is in red. This is because it is SUPER IMPORTANT. Your character drives the story. If (s)he doesn’t have a good reason for doing whatever it is (s)he’s doing, then why do we care?
The characters are the MOST IMPORTANT part of the novel. Trust me. It’s not the plot. It’s not the setting. Even if you have a really weak storyline, people will still keep going if you have good characters, because they’ll want to know what happens to them. They’ll want to hear about every aspect of their lives. It’s after you get your readers hooked on your characters that you can stick in descriptions, because by then, your readers will care. Make your characters unforgettable.
It’s also really important to be on the lookout for unlikeable protagonists. I started a book and couldn’t get past the first chapter because the main character was a whiny teenager who complained about every little thing. It got on my nerves to the point where I dropped the book. There are obviously exceptions to every rule, but in general, you don’t want your protagonist to be annoying. If you’re writing a story where (s)he changes throughout the story from a brat to a nice person, don’t let him/her be too bratty at the beginning. And if (s)he has to be, then make sure you stick something in there that makes the reader keep going, an incentive for the reader to get past that point.
Basically, this is what you should get out of this:
CHARACTERS. CHARACTERS. CHARACTERS.
I can’t stress that enough. If you’ve got a villain, make us really hate him. You can control your readers with your characters. You can make them cling to the book and never want to let go. Do it.