Angela here, happy to welcome Savannah Cordova from Reedsy who has done some sleuthing to find tools that might help you create your characters. Play around with ideas, or take a deep dive into their backstory, personality, and the forces that drive them to achieve meaningful story goals, it’s up to you!
We all know characters are the beating heart of any good story. No matter how original or exciting your plot is, readers simply won’t be able to get invested unless they care about the people (or robots, or animals, or whatever your characters are!). That’s why before you start writing — possibly before you even figure out your plot — you need to create characters that are well-rounded and compelling.
It’s this prerequisite of character development that makes features like the occupation thesaurus so valuable. Because when creating characters, you can’t leave anything out! We’re all “round” in real life, after all. So if some of your characters are mysteriously missing careers, motivations, or discernible personalities, readers are going to notice.
Luckily, there are plenty of stellar tools to assist you with character development and profiling. Here are five character tools you need to know, each one designed to serve a different purpose (and listed in the order that you’d most likely need them).
Though this tool is titled the rather general-sounding “Character Creator,” it really encompasses just one aspect of the character: their physical appearance. However, it’s the most useful tool I’ve discovered for this particular function. Though there are plenty of “physical appearance” generators out there, they tend to just spit out a combination of traits (“curly brown hair/green eyes/freckles”) rather than actually showing you what the character would look like. I find it much more helpful to have concrete visuals of your characters as you’re writing about them — plus it’s just fun to experiment with different physical traits and see how they manifest.
Of course, you can always comb through head shots on sites like Backstage, or use images of your favorite actors or models. This may be best if you need a visual for a character who’s especially tall, short, fat, or skinny; the main drawback of Character Creator is its lack of diverse body types. But everything else is intricately customizable, from face shape to hairstyle to the wide range of accessories. (If anyone’s been able to find a more inclusive, body-positive character maker, please let me know in the comments!)
TIP: When it comes to describing your character on the page, make sure to check out this Physical Features Descriptive Database.
After you’ve checked off character appearances, Reedsy’s character name generator should be your next stop. In the name (get it?) of full disclosure, my team created this tool, so I might be a bit biased as to how cool it is. But seriously — it’s divided by language, archetype, and even various countries’ mythologies, with over a million potential options for character names.
If you want a strong moniker for your protag, you can try out the hero name generator to find one that means something empowering, like “fighter” or “radiant.” Or say one of your characters is Korean, but you don’t speak Korean: you can use the relevant language generator to produce some authentic names. In any case, for those who agonize over picking out character names (and are sick and tired of baby name websites!), this generator is your lifeline.
Now we’re getting into the meat and potatoes of your characters: their personalities. You’ve probably already thought about how your characters will behave and interact with one another, since character dynamics are often pretty intertwined with plot. However, you may not have considered how their outward behavior actually relates to their personality. For example, you might have a character who’s always loud, energetic, and the life of the party — but do they act that way because they’re actually very confident and secure, or because they crave attention and approval? This is where personality comes into play.
As you’re coming up with character personalities, you may wish to consult a personality generator like RanGen’s. It provides lists of qualities pertaining to a character’s friendliness, confidence, emotional capacity, intelligence, and other attributes. But of course, true to the “RanGen” name, this is a random generator — which means the traits may be completely arbitrary in relation to the characters you’ve started constructing, and even in relation to each other. For instance, I got a profile where the character’s friendliness was “callous,”yet their agreeableness was “harmonic” (needless to say, not the most compatible combination).
While character personalities don’t need to be perfectly cohesive — to paraphrase Whitman, they can contain multitudes — you probably shouldn’t have traits that clearly contradict one another. And you definitely don’t want your characters to seem cobbled together at random, especially because their experiences and environments affect them in very specific ways, which a generator cannot take into account. As a result, this tool is best used for brainstorming, rather than creating full-on character profiles.
TIP: Planning your character’s personality using the database of positive traits and negative traits at One Stop for Writers is also a great option, as it helps you describe these traits through behaviors, attitudes, etc.
It’s designed for roleplaying, but this character motivation tool can definitely be applied to the characters in your story. You might have to rephrase certain motivations for them to make sense (for example, instead of “character wants to bring glory to their planet,” you might say “to their family” or “to their community” instead), but otherwise it’s a pretty nuanced tool.
Again, as with character dynamics, you probably already have some idea of your characters’ motivations, as they’ll relate closely to your plot. However, for any characters you’re unsure about, or who might need additional motivations to make them more complex, this generator can really help. It might even spark a subplot or spin-off for a secondary character, who suddenly gets a lot more interesting with the help of motivations!
For more motivations (and indeed descriptive characteristics of all stripes), you can of course check out the Character Motivation Database over at One Stop for Writers. Which brings us to…
Naturally, I have to give a shout out to One Stop for Writers’ super-comprehensive Character Builder. For those who haven’t tried it already, this is no average character template. Rather than merely providing the minimum number of blank spaces for you to fill in, the Character Builder walks you through the whole process and highlights the importance of connection among every aspect of your character.
You’ll start with the basics: your character’s backstory, which will emphasize how their past experience has led to their current vulnerabilities. This foundation allows you to build their personality, behavior, motivations, and more intuitively from there. Indeed, the Character Builder’s greatest strength is that it truly helps you breathe life into your characters: while all the other tools on this list will give you ideas, the Character Builder will enable you to hone those ideas into consistent, realistic, in-depth characters. Here’s a character profile built with this tool.
Yes, all these tools have their own individual strengths — but they’re best used in conjunction with one another. The whole here is definitely greater than the sum of the parts, because the whole is ultimately the character themselves, and that character has limitless potential.
Do you have a favorite character tool? Please let us know in the comments!
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories (and occasionally terrible novels).
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.