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Character Development in Fantasy Fiction

Updated on March 27, 2010

Creating Quality Characters for Fantasy Fiction

Fantasy fiction is often considered to be the home or archetypal fantasy races which are overshadowed almost entirely by the grandiose, make-believe setting or an epic story line. However, creating quality characters is an essential part of connecting with your readers. After all, characters are the ones who live in that setting and play out their roles in the story line. Learning how to create true-to-life characters, even if nothing like them exists in reality, is how you will hook your readers all the way to "The End."

Basics of Character Creation

Creating characters for fantasy fiction is nearly the same as creating characters for any other type of fiction. The people (or elves, dwarves, fairies, dragons, snarkwaggles, or whatever) all need the same basic things.

  • Name
  • Age
  • Physical appearance
  • Family and friends
  • Occupation (or at least what they do with their time)
  • Hobbies or interests

In fantasy fiction, these things may be more unusual than in commercial fiction, but that doesn't change their essence. Start fantasy fiction character development with these basics.

Fantasy Characters Come in All Types

Fantasy Fiction Character Sheet Questions

Character sheets may bring to mind teenage days clutching 10-sided dice in your friend's basement, but they're not just for Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games. Character sheets can be very useful when writing fantasy fiction as well. You can find huge sheets to print and fill out online with hundreds of questions and slots for information. If you enjoy filling these forms out, by all means, do so.

But you really don't need to get that involved in your character's psyche. You just have to know them as well as you know anyone. You need to know the answer to the most important question of all: "Why?"

Any character sheet that includes anything about the character's past can help you answer that question. Why does Brokgar the Brave want to  kill every Elf he comes across? Perhaps he's just a mean guy, but, more likely, somewhere in his past, an elf did something horrible to him or his family. A character sheet can help.

Of course, you are not going to write down an entire history for every character in your fantasy fiction story. That would probably be a waste of time. But there are several things you should always include on a cheat sheet for them.

Who is, or was, their family? And what is the relationship like between them? And why is it that way?

If Brokgar the Brave grew up with a loving mother and father, and a little sister he doted on, perhaps he would not have come to hate elves quite so passionately. However, if his mother ran away with an elf and his father was robbed by one, his hatred would make more sense.

What is the worst thing that ever happened in your characters life? What is the best thing? What does he regret?

These questions will help you form a true 3-dimensional character in your mind a lot easier than filling in slots about eye color and shoe size.

Fantasy Characters

What is your favorite race of fantasy characters?

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Avoiding Mary Sues and Gary Stus

There is a predisposition for amateur-written fantasy fiction to be filled with Mary Sue or Gary Stu characters. These types of characters are essentially wish-fulfillment for the writer. They are usually created after the supreme idolization of the writer herself.

Mary Sues are perfect. They have flawless skin and entrancing eyes (often purple). They always get the guy. Always have reams of friends who look up to them. And always save the world in the end. They are the "Chosen Ones." Even their flaws - if they have any - are endearing more than distracting.

How do you avoid them?

First of all, don't model the character in your fantasy fiction after yourself. Do not favor them too highly and make them the reason for everything good in your novel or short story. Give them real flaws, not just a wayward shock of hair or a rakish scar. Give them personality flaws, but not all the personality flaws, or they risk becoming an Anti-Sue.

Just because you are writing fantasy fiction, every character should not become your ultimate fantasy. They still need to be living, breathing people (or whatever) with histories, flaws, strengths and reasons why they do the things they do.


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    • ZofiaLotus profile image


      6 years ago from Oregon

      Great article on writing characters and the special needs of the genre. I found this hub very useful in how I am developing the characters in my fantasy novel. Thanks.

    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Fantasy writing is popular as we see in the movie theaters and hits such as LOTR, Pans Labyrinth, Labyrinth, Harry Potter, etc. I think these are awesome stories and skill that can do well. :)

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 

      8 years ago from NJ, USA

      Interesting idea for an article; I'm an amateur writer like most on here and have several fantasy novels on the go! I'm glad to say that generally I do follow your guidelines! For instance, one of my main characters is a wizard - he's powerful, but his spells go wrong at the wrong time...I know a cliché that isn't new, but I concentrate more on the reaction of the character and those around him to make the events when he casts a spell in a bar and turns all the enemies into chickens....we then see the characters all eating fried chicken after (he casts a fireball successfully after the chicken incident!) I agree with you that not all characters are perfect, and it's this imperfection that make them so good!


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