Character Template

The Best Character Template Masterlist for 2024

How can you ensure your characters leap off the page and into your characters’ hearts?

Characters are the lifeblood of any story, and if you can work out how to create the kinds of characters that readers will love, then they will become lifelong devotees of your books.

But how to do it?

Do you start with a name? Should you base them on someone you know? Or should you work out their inner conflicts and take it from there?

Naturally, every author will have a different approach, but not only that, as a writer, you might want to create different characters in different ways. Some might arrive fully formed, while others need teasing out through research and careful moulding.

In this article we’re going to offer a thorough template to help you build a character from the inside out.

Note that this isn’t simply a character questionnaire. We happen to have written the most popular and comprehensive one of those you can find, and you can see that here, but this template is more than that.

This template will take you through how to build up the layers of your character like an onion, so that they have a bearing heart, inner conflicts, goals and desires, as well as unique physical characteristics, quirks and behaviour patterns.

And at the end of the article you’ll find some tasks you can complete as homework, because we strongly believe in making things as practical as possible to help you progress as a writer.

The Ultimate Character Template with Guidelines

1. Layer One – Core

We start with the beating heart – this is what the rest of your character will be built on. If you don’t know what’s at the very centre of your character, then you risk the rest of the characterisation feeling disjointed and inconsistent. 

As you work through each of the layers, always try to keep in mind this core, and make sure that all the additional layers work with it.

Personality Type

You could use specific personality type models such as enneagram and jungian in order to establish the basics of a personality type, and this can be very useful. But you don’t have to.

All you want to do here is get a very rough concept of the sort of personality we’re talking about, for example, is this a shy, unconfident character? Or is it an ambitious, funny one? Visualise the character in your mind and come up with three words to describe their personality. 

External Motivation (their want) – linked to the story goal

We could write a whole article about external and internal motivations (in fact we’ve written several, find them here and here – links needed), but to try to put it in a nutshell, you need to think about your character within the context of the story, and establish what they want. 

Perhaps they want to take over their father’s shop and make him proud. Or perhaps they want to win a gold olympic medal. Or perhaps they simply want to find someone to love.

What is it that your character wants above all else?

Internal Motivation (their need) – linked to their flaw

External motivation is about what your character desires, what their goal is. Internal motivation is about what will actually make them fulfilled as a person, and this almost always comes from the inside.

Many stories are about a character finding themselves, their confidence and realising what really makes them happy (hint – this is often not what they thought – not their external motivation).

The reason this is linked to their flaw is because it is their flaw which is keeping them from being happy. The flaw is causing their internal conflict.

For example, somebody may be shy because they believe they are boring – this would be their flaw – their lack of self belief. So their internal motivation (which they probably won’t be consciously aware of) is to overcome the flawed belief that they are unworthy and to be confident around other people.

To give you a very different example – a different character may be extremely confident, but may believe that his self worth entirely comes from following in his father’s footsteps and being a powerful King. But this belief leads him to consider himself superior to all others, and because of this he has no true, trusting friendships where he allows himself to be vulnerable. The story may map his journey of self-discovery and learning that his worth comes from within and that happiness comes from friendship rather than power over others. 

2. Layer Two – Characterisation

In this layer we will build on the core, but we are still staying very close to the emotional heart of the character.

Positive Traits / Strengths

What are some of the best things about this character? They could be emotional, mental, skill based, or something else.

For example, they might be very kind, or very smart. They might be amazing with a bow and arrow, or they might be able to understand whale song. Perhaps they are perfectly happy in their own company, or never lose a card game.

List at least three positive traits or strengths for your character.

Negative Traits / Weaknesses

What are some of the bad points of this character? Try to be honest with these, and not give your character fake bad traits like they’re just too generous for their own good, or ‘a bit of a perfectionist’.

While you do want your characters to be likeable, readers are more likely to identify with them and empathise with them if they’re not perfect.

Perhaps your character is very untidy, or they lose their temper easily. Maybe they indulge in a bit of light shop-lifting, or don’t listen properly when people are talking to them.

Try to come up with at least three.

You can browse a list of character flaws for inspiration here:

What do they love?

Passion is attractive. If your character loves something, that will make them more appealing to readers and will also add more dimensions.

They may love their daughter more than anything, or it may be that they love collecting sea shells and painting them. Or perhaps they love the Grand Prix so much they travel all over the world to watch it. Maybe they love hedgehogs, or raspberry ripple ice cream or Autumn.

What do they hate?

Some of our dislikes are rational, some less so. Consider what gets your characters’ hackles up. Is it being talked down to? Seagulls? Pop music? 

It’s good to try to think of a few things they hate, ranging from the completely understandable injustices to the ridiculous niggles. 

3. Layer Three – Uniqueness

In the first two layers we began to build a person with motivations, values and preferences, In this layer, we’re going to add a few bells and whistles, a bit of colour to make them truly unique.

It’s kind of mind blowing that there are nearly 9 billion people in the world and yet every single one of them is unique. And your character must be, too.

These prompts are designed to help you develop a few detailed aspects of your character to make them memorable and one of a kind.

Quirks and Mannerisms

Does the character always wear their glasses too far down their nose, so they have to perpetually tilt their head back in order to look at who they’re talking to? Or do they always turn up to events at least thirty minutes late? Do they have a laugh that sounds like a lovesick hyena? 

The key here is to come up with something that most people don’t have. It doesn’t have to be so weird that nobody’s ever heard of it before, but it should be unique to this character in this story. 

Here’s a list of quirks to inspire you.

Fears and Phobias

We’ve already talked about what they hate, so there may be some overlap here. But if you haven’t already, it can be very insightful to understand what your character is afraid of.

Again, this can range from the completely understandable (falling from a great height) to the less rational (being afraid of patterns with holes or bumps – that’s called Trypophobia in case you were wondering). 

Life Philosophy or Motto

This is really a fun one that can help you get a sense of the spirit of your character. Are they someone who believes in seizing the day? Or do they think that failing to prepare is preparing to fail? Do they believe it’s a dog eat dog world?

Summing up their life motto in one sentence can help guide you as you consider how they react to events in your book. 

Most treasured possession – and why

Using items and the reason they are precious to the character can tell you a lot about a person and can also really hit your readers hard.

Perhaps their most treasured possession is their electric porsche. At first that might seem fairly shallow, but then you find out that they grew up dirt poor and clawed their way up to success and have carried around a torn out piece of paper from a magazine with a picture of this porsche for the last ten years.

Or perhaps their first love gave them a homemade shell necklace, and now they never take it off.

Maybe their most treasured possession is a bag of soaps, because it was the only item that survived the housefire that took their entire family and everything else they ever owned.

4. Layer Four – Physical 

Of course, it’s also important to know what your character looks like. When considering what they look like, you may have a clear image in your head anyway, but where you can, try to weave what you already know about their character into their physical appearance – either to compliment it, or to provide contrast in a unique way.

For example, if they are supremely confident, will you give them the appearance of the dominant societal group – i.e. a straight, white male? This will make their confidence feel more natural to the reader. However, perhaps you could make them a gay black woman in a wheelchair. This will make their confidence seem more stark and eye-catching and will make for a more unique character. 

What you do is up to you, just consider the sub-conscious impact of the physical appearance of your character on your readers. 

Basic physical characteristics

Hair colour and style, skin, eye colour, height, build. All the basics you see when you first look at a person.

Distinguishing Features

Ideally try to find one or two things about this person’s appearance that stand out. As well as making them more colourful, it will be helpful to readers in keeping track of who’s who. 

Perhaps they always wear huge earrings, or blink when they’re lying. Maybe they have a full length trench coat they wear everywhere, even in summer, or maybe they’ve never seen without a hat. It could be something about the way they walk, smile or use their hands.

Sense of style

It’s worth exploring their clothing choices, and seeing how that reflects their personality and experience.

It’s not just the kind of clothes they wear, but also how they wear them. Do they take great care to be well groomed, or do they just throw on whatever’s lying on the floor? Can they afford lots of clothes? If they always cycle the same three outfits, is it because they can’t afford more? Or because they don’t care about clothes and want to think about them as little as possible? Or is it because they are superstitious that if they change their routine something bad will happen?

5. Layer Five – Backstory

Your character’s backstory is important, and if you enjoy detailing every aspect of their life up to now, then you should do it for the joy of it.

However, if you’re a bit more ambivalent about it, then, don’t feel you need to write complete family histories for everyone. The important thing is to get an idea of a few key formative aspects of their backstory, to understand what makes them tick today.

Describe the three most formative experiences in this character’s life so far

Look over your notes for the character’s motivations, strengths, weaknesses, passions and fears. Create some memories for the character that link into forming these. 

Describe their childhood

Again, you can write a lot on this if you wish, but if not, just write a few sentences to roughly describe if their childhood was a happy one or not, and why. Our experiences in our early years have a huge impact on how we interact with the world as adults.

6. Layer Six – Relationships

Similarly to backstory, you don’t need to know about every single person they’ve ever met, but humans are social creatures and our relationships are a key part of our existence. So it would be a good idea to know about the most important people to them. 

Who is the most important person to them and why?

Knowing about a character’s most important person will tell you a lot about that character. 

If the most important person to them is their loving mother, then you know they had secure attachments and loving bonds as a child, and will therefore likely to be more resilient and have more internal resources to draw on in times of need.

But if the most important person in their life is a celebrity that they admire, that suggests they are lacking the kind of personal bond that they need to be balanced, and may behave in a more erratic or harmful way.

Who has hurt them the most in their life?

We are formed by our bad experiences as well as our good ones, and understanding how your character has been hurt by relationships in the past will help ensure they are complex and charismatic.

Perhaps there was an unloving parent who did enduring damage to their self-esteem. 

Or maybe it was a best friend or lover who betrayed them, making it hard for them to trust people again.

Again, consider the character’s core, and earlier layers when thinking about this pain from the past, and how they could link together. 

Describe three to five of their most important relationships (good or bad)

Further to the two key relationships above, explore a few other of the key relationships in this person’s life – it could be family, friends, work colleagues, pets, role models – and how they have impacted on their person’s belief systems and mental health. 

A Summary of the Character Template Questions

Here are the same questions, but without any of the guidelines, so you can use them for reference.

Layer One – Core

  • Personality Type
  • Flaw
  • External Motivation (their want)
  • Internal Motivation (their need)

Layer Two – Characterisation

  • Positive Traits / Strengths
  • Negative Traits / Weaknesses
  • What do they love?
  • What do they hate?

Layer Three – Uniqueness

  • Quirks and Mannerisms
  • Fears and Phobias
  • Life Philosophy or Motto
  • Most treasured possession

Layer Four – Physical 

  • Basic physical characteristics – hair, skin and eye colour, height and build
  • Distinguishing Features
  • Physical mannerisms – style of walking, twitches, overused gestures
  • Sense of style – clothing, accessories, how do they wear their clothes, how long to they take over their appearance, how important is their appearance to them

Layer Five – Backstory

  • Describe the three most formative experiences in this character’s life so far
  • Describe their childhood
  • What is their most treasured possession and why?
  • Describe what event or events from their past created their flaw

Layer Six – Relationships

  • Describe three to five of their most important relationships (good or bad)
  • Who is the most important person to them and why?
  • Describe their family
  • Describe their friends
  • Describe their work relationships

And don’t forget, if you’d like to delve into more of the details of aspects of character, you should check out our Ultimate Character Questionnaire.


So there you have it! A character template to help you develop living, breathing, charismatic characters, by starting with a core and layering up levels of personality and uniqueness.

As mentioned, if you like character questionnaires, then this is the most detailed and comprehensive one out there.

Character Creation Tasks

And as promised here are some tasks to spring you into character development action!

  • Create a character by answering all of the questions above
  • Choose a favourite character from a book and complete the questions for them. What do you notice about the answers and how they relate to the story of the book or movie?
  • Create your own character template, based on the one above, but removing questions you don’t find useful and adding others you do