"You can construct the character of a man and his age not only from what he does and says, but from what he fails to say and do." -- Norman Douglas
With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, many of you will be writing stories with new characters. Some writers prefer to discover their characters as they write, but I always want to know as much as I can ahead of time. In addition to answering my three questions, I fill out profile sheets and sketch or paint characters. I don't do the crafty collage board thing, but I've heard that can help, too.
It's always good to know more about your character than the reader does, so in addition to the general info, you might want to take a peak inside your character's psyche and see what's going on in there by trying these things:
1. Roleplay your character and make him or her take all those fun online quizzes, and see what color/book/planet/flower/movie/whatever he or she turns out to be.
2. Go to the mall and window-shop clothes for your characters, or go to a car dealer and test drive a car your character would own.
3. Put together and burn a collection of music that your character would listen to, and play it in the car on the way to work or on the Walkman while you're cleaning house.
4. Unless you have bug-loving aliens in your novel, cook a meal that your character would enjoy and eat it.
5. Start a journal and write it as your character.
For moderately to severely dysfunctional characters, unless you're already a shrink, you're probably going to have to do some extra research. A couple of friendly spots to check out:
1. Abnormal Psychology's Online Case Book provides some case histories for such conditions such as OCD, histrionic Personality Disorder, and Anorexia, as well as brief analysis trouble-shooting and associated web links.
2. AllPsych.com has some interesting content, including a good section on personality development and some pithy Online Self-Help Quizzes (another place to make your character take the tests.)
More help: Fiction Writer's character profile sheet is pretty thorough but general enough to work for most characters.
To avoid creating the Classic Dimit Antagonist, check out Peter Anspach's The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord.