Investigate your Character


I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is I is for Investigate your Character

My 16-year-old daughter, Samantha Erickson, wrote a list of questions that she asks about the characters she creates. I was impressed when I read it and I’m grateful that she has allowed me to share the list here.(1) I think this is a great method for getting to know your character intimately. When you investigate your character, you see not only what they do but why they do it.

Private Investigator

Imagine you are a private investigator and your latest assignment is to investigate your character. You’ve been asked to find out everything about him. If he sneezes, your client wants you to collect the Kleenex. You don’t just start asking him questions. Instead, you hang back, casual-like. Watch your character in his natural environment. The phone rings and he jumps out of bed. But he stubs his toe on the coffee table. How does he react? Does he abandon all dignity and cuss before curling up into a ball? Does he grab his foot and hop on the other, wincing in silence, trying not to howl the explicative he’s thinking? Or does he just let out a hiss of irritation before moving on?

Investigate What Your Character Likes and Dislikes

What does he eat for breakfast, and why? Is he a health nut that makes time for some old-fashioned oatmeal? Does he grab some bulletproof coffee on the go? Or is it a bowl of Lucky Charms that satisfies the kid in him?
What does your character read? The classics? The Wall-Street Journal? Or is his reading limited to graphic “novels”?

Investigate Your Character’s Relationships

How long has it been since he’s called his mom—or visited her? Or is he still living in his mom’s basement at the age of 32?
What about his dad? Was he strict or slothful? Was he even around?
Now he’s heading out to meet his lady friend—or is he married? What’s he like with her? Does he get invested in relationships or is he emotionally detached? Does he view his girlfriend’s emotions with amusement or distaste? Maybe that’s why she’s dumping him right now. Or is she cutting him loose because he shies away from physical contact due to the extreme abuse he endured as a child? How does he react? Is he begging her for a second third chance? Or does he already have another lady waiting in the wings?

Investigate Your Character’s Past

How have his experiences changed him? Is he a former soldier gone vegan because his experiences in battle have made it impossible for him to stomach eating meat? Or does he avoid meat because he keeps a strict budget, a habit from growing up in extreme poverty?
Maybe after living in poverty his entire life He suddenly comes into a lot of money. What does he blow it on? Does he travel halfway across the globe to a place he’s never been? Would he bring someone with him? Who and why? Does he act completely unreserved, knowing he’ll never see anyone there again? What rules would he break? Why those rules? And, is he truly free of consequences?

Investigate Your Character’s Mind

How willing is he to forgive someone who has betrayed him? Which does he value more, trust or love?
How does he view himself? Is he confident, insecure, and is he right about it? Does he fear failure, or disappointing those around him?
How affected is he by world events? Does history interest him? What are his political views? Is he pushy with his opinions, or does he step back to watch others argue it out?
How open is he with his emotions? Does he conceal them? Why? Does he want to appear strong? Doesn’t he trust the people around him? How does he process those emotions? What are his coping strategies? Are they healthy ways to cope? If not, does he realize that they’re not a good way to deal with his feelings?

A note from Samantha:

Fleshing out a character and finding their actual flaws, not just ones that are endearing, are the key to a good character. If only the villain disagrees with your protagonist, something is wrong, or really, not wrong enough.


I did a little bit of editing for stylistic reasons.

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What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My FamilyThe Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

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28 comments on “Investigate your Character

I groaned in a combination of frustration and delight when I read this post, Heather. Frustration because I so wish I had a brain that was curious in this way. Delight because these are just wonderful questions that, when answered, would inevitably result in a captivating and fully-formed character. I’m going to try to write a character description of a private investigator by answering your questions. Thank you for this!
P.S. – I can’t find a live link for Samantha’s questions. I’ll check back later.

Hi Karen, I really do need to create a pdf of the list and make it available. I am in continuing education all day tomorrow, so it will have to wait a bit longer. Have a great day!

You bring up lots of good ways to flesh out a character.

~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
My A to Z’s of Dining with IC
Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

Hi Patricia, Often we don’t even need to directly refer to the answers to these questions. Just knowing the answers can help you bring your characters to life. Have a great day!

I am weak in this area but every time I’m stuck, if I put myself in my character’s shoes, I figure it out. That assumes I figure out that character first!

Hi Jacqui, Putting yourself in your character’s shoes is a great way to know if there are any weaknesses there. You might even discover some trait your character has which you never thought of before. 🙂

Very good list. So many things go into creating a good character.

Thank you, Liz. If we want readers to want to know our characters, we need to know them first. Have a great day!

That is a great list for investigation!
I sometimes make character sheets for my writing – because creating a fiction character is essentially the same process as creating an RPG character 🙂

The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

Hi Tarkabarka, I love character sheets. I make a similar form for settings. Settings are often a character of sorts, with a history and culture all its own. Have a great day!

There is so much more to writing a good character than I realized. You can picture someone in your head, but getting under their skin and “knowing” them would be the key to creating a believable character that engages the reader. Loved the questions and categories.

Leanne |
J for Just Do It!

Hi Leanne, It reminds me of when I was in art school, learning how to draw portraits. The teacher had a mantra: Draw what you see, not what you think you know. Often we put facial features in the wrong place because we make assumptions. Writing is the same way. We need to really dig in to get the details right. That makes writing realistic. Have an awesome day!

These questions are really useful and I’m bookmarking this post to help me with my WiP. Thanks for sharing!

Hi Tizzy. I hope they’re helpful. Have a wonderful week!

What a delightful list of questions to flesh out a character in a story; ear marked this for another read as I am most keen to start writing fiction and shall explore this format. Cheers

“Stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip!”

Hi Shalzmojo. Thank you for stopping by. I wish you the best as you begin to write fiction. It is so fun to bring an imaginary world and its inhabitants to life. I am sure you will do a beautiful job!

Hi, Samantha and Heather – I am stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip. Your “private detective questions’ are incredibly insightful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Thank you, Donna. I loved your recent post on the Broombusters. I appreciate your kind words and you taking the time to stop by. Have a wonderful week!

Stopping by on the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip! Wow, that is an impressive list of questions! I love how deep it allows me to investigate into my characters. And the final words of wisdom about the villain shouldn’t be the only one not loving the main character – profound. Thank you Samantha and Heather for helping me be a better writer!

Thank you, Jen. I’m glad this can be helpful. Have an awesome week!

Stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip! Those are great ideas to really flesh out your characters!

Thank you, C.TdeF. I spent some time checking out your site, today. It’s awesome. What an adventure you are living! My husband always says if he were younger and healthier, we would undertake a similar adventure.

Excellent post, Samantha and Heather! Become a private investigator to know your characters – excellent way to think of it. It will come in very handy when I finally begin writing fiction, which I will one day. Thank you for the tips!

Thank you, Emily. It was so fun to work with Sam on this post. She’s a fantastic writer in her own right. Have an amazing week!

I do all of that and more when fleshing out characters 🙂 Great list.

Ronel from Ronel the Mythmaker A-Z road-tripping with Everything Writerly: I is for Ill-prepared

Hi Ronel. I bet your characters really come alive, too. Some people are natural character creators, others are intricate plotters. Some are the total package. Thankfully, even if something isn’t someone’s strong suit, tools like this simple list can help them get past it. Have a fantastic week!

The Post you have shared through this article is really impressive and very helpful to me. I am stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip. after reading your article. Those ideas really flesh out my characters!

Thank you, Branka. I wish you lived closer to me. I would love to go out to coffee and pick your brain about private investigation. You must have endless story ideas!

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