Essential Character Development Questions: 3 Questions to Ask Every Character You Write

Gloria Kempton  |  June 15, 2021  | 

Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles (second here) on the fundamentals of character development written for by our instructor Gloria Kempton, in support of a full character development course she’s developing. In this article, Gloria covers the three essential questions you should ask each character you write.

There are three questions you want to ask every character that you create:

Character Development Question 1: What do you most want?

Every human being wants something. This is largely what it means to be human. To want, desire, crave, need, cherish, chase, hunger for. Whatever your character is chasing—put it right up front, in the opening scene and make it large.

Your character should be desperate to attain this one thing. The more desperate your character is, the more the reader will engage with the story. The reader will only care as much as the character cares. The character must be willing to give up anything, go through anything to attain what he or she so desperately wants.

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Character Development Question 2: What do you most fear?

We all have fears. We don’t like to talk about them, but they’re there, under the surface, causing us to act in ways we don’t understand, driving our thoughts, words, and deeds. When we give our characters these same fears, readers are able to connect with them as if they were sitting in the same room.

Character Development Question 3: What will cause the reader to remember you after your story is long over?

We all have traits, habits, idiosyncrasies, ideas, behavior patterns that stand out from the crowd. The trait should be visual, a bit over-the-top, and hold a dramatic meaning of some kind. It should characterize—aid the reader in truly beginning to understand and know your character.

Try asking your characters these questions!

And so, give each of your characters something to want, something to fear, and something that will make him or her memorable simply because he or she is a human being.


  1. Ella on February 13, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks for the excellent advice. I am trying to write a short YP novel.
    I will go back and add action to main character, proceed.
    Very helpful.

  2. Lee daley on February 13, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks! Excellent article. Question. In a first person story, would the same three questions apply? Lee

    • Loren on March 3, 2020 at 9:45 am

      Yes, Lee — absolutely! Think of Nick in _The Great Gatsby_ — some may argue that Gatsby is the main character, but there’s a good case to be made that the MC is Nick — he is the one who changes, who comes to realize something that makes of him a different person. So know your first-person narrators, even when they seem to be peripheral.

  3. Gloria Kempton on February 13, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Absolutely, Lee. The voice and/or viewpoint makes no difference whatsoever. Keep in mind that when you ask your character these questions, she may have no idea just how deep his desires, and fears run, just how much what makes that character memorable is right out there for everyone to see.

  4. Denise Holmes on February 15, 2020 at 4:16 am

    I am struggling to finish a middle grade novel with a terrific main character, about whom I can answer these 3 questions. But the sidekick characters are not as vivid and memorable. Uh oh….

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