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I’m starting a new mystery novel.

I have the details of the murder plotted and the motive set, and an idea for how the investigation will unfold. What I don’t have yet is a protagonist to investigate and solve this mystery.

It’s kind of an important detail.

I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks and have been jotting down ideas. I started looking at some resources for creating characters. There are a lot of great books out there (I’m looking at you K.M. Weiland and your awesome workbooks) but before the character arcs are plotted or the character biography is written, I need ideas for characters.

Here are a few resources I’ve found that have generated some ideas:

1. Research the “Basic Human Needs”

On the most fundamental level, all humans have basic needs that we strive to fulfill—and that makes for a good place to start in creating a character. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs (Survival, Safety, Love & Belonging, Self-Esteem, and Self-Fulfillment) is a great study into these human longings that transcend all cultures and races. There are other psychological studies as well, and some may list seven or ten basic needs. Regardless, this makes for a good starting point.

Where does the character fall on this chart? What basic needs are being met and what is he or she searching for? This can define the character on the most elemental level and may even start to develop the relationships around him or her.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by

2. Research “Personality Types”

Whether it’s the 16 personality types defined by Myers-Briggs or the 12 described by the Zodiac Astrological Signs, these descriptions can give you some direction. With that personality description, you can start developing the character—What’s the perfect job? Is he or she a natural leader? A cat person or a dog person? Athletic and sport-minded or bookish and brainy? Creative or analytical?

The personality types can be a good place to start to create a full, well-rounded character.

The 16 Personality Types by Dr. A.J. Drenth

3. Research “Careers”

Take a look at job sites to brainstorm some ideas for characters. People are often defined by what they do for a living, and a unique and interesting job can create a unique and interesting character. This can go hand in hand with the Personality Type mentioned above, as the career can help define the personality type or the personality type can lead to the career path. Or create some conflict by giving a specific Personality Type a career he or she wouldn’t be suited for.

Careers for Your Characters by Franz and Obstfeld, Raymond Neumann

4. Research “Hobbies”

Have you ever heard the expression, “Basketball doesn’t build character, it reveals it?”

A character’s hobby can speak volumes about who that person is. A character who loves to bowl or a lead a band is probably an outgoing, social extrovert. On the other hand, a stamp collector will probably be an introvert. Find an offbeat, adventurous, or outrageous hobby, and a character will most definitely materialize.

Want to get creative? What if your character has a hobby that totally conflicts with his or her job?

The Big Book of Hobby Ideas by D.J. Gelner

5. Research “Character Traits”

Character traits can be all those little mannerisms and quirks that make a character unique. Traits often predict how the character will react in situations and interact with other characters. And while the “Personality Type” may define the character as a “leader,” his or her ability to take charge, make quick decisions, and jump into action are the character traits that support it. Add the character’s tendency to be bossy and over confident and you’ve added some negative traits to the mix, which ultimately makes a more rounded character.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein

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