How To Write Strong Fictional Characters? It’s All in Their Origin Story.

  • At the beginning of most novels, we see the character in their status quo reality, whether it’s a place where they are happy and at ease or somewhere they’re dying to escape
  • No matter how they feel about home, in order for the story to start, eventually the character has to leave, physically or metaphorically. If the rules in their town change dramatically, or a new person moves in and upsets the way things have always been, this still counts as a departure.
  • In this new state away from their origin, the character learns many lessons, either by succeeding or, even more often, by failing. They have a limited understanding of the world, based on the beliefs they carried up to that point and this limits their ability to get what they want.
  • Finally, there is a change. Either they fail forever and never get to come home again, as in a tragedy; or they are able to evolve, apply new skills and go “home” triumphant. This may be a new home they find in themselves, or they may return to their physical home and experience it differently.
  • What is most important to the culture where your character grew up?
  • What is taboo and could lead to exile? (actual or just rejection by others)
  • What do they love about where they come from? (If anything)
  • What do they wish they could change?
  • Does their culture support or forbid their dreams?
  • What could they do to become a hero in their culture?
  • What could they do to become a villain to their homeland?
Caroline Donahue is an American writer, podcaster, and English teacher living in Berlin. She is the host of The Secret Library podcast and co-host of GTFO pod. She is the co-editor of I Wrote it Anyway: An Anthology of Essays, and the author of Story Arcana : Using Tarot for Writing. She is currently at work on her first novel. Learn more at She is THE BOOK DOCTOR columnist for the Berlin-based online magazine THE WILD WORD.



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