Last week, we took a dive into the character alignments of Dungeons & Dragons and how we can consider them when building characters in our stories. Of course, someone’s relationships with morality and society don’t define them as a person.

If alignments are our jumping-off point, backgrounds and personality traits are where we get to the root of who your character is and how to write them.

Character Backgrounds

In Dungeons & Dragons, your character’s background is defined by the role they played before the start of their story. Characters are not blank slates on page one; they have life experiences that led them to where they are when they enter your story. Understanding where they came from can help you understand the choices they make going forward.

Some backgrounds are simply a character’s previous work experience: a stalwart soldier, a machinating politician, or a charismatic entertainer. Knowing what skills your character developed can inform how they approach challenges.

A background can also explain a pivotal moment in a character’s life. A folk hero whose accomplishments made them a local legend. A feylost character spent their formative years surviving in the Feywild. The haunted one had a traumatizing experience, and the horrors of what they endured and what they lost follow them through their journey.

Each character had a life-altering experience, and all three may have starkly different attitudes toward the risks of adventure informed by those experiences.

A character in your story might have multiple identities that comprise their background. What is important is considering how those roles and events affect your character when they enter the story.

Stepping Outside of Fantasy

This style of character-building isn’t limited to high fantasy. Let’s create a romantic protagonist, starting with her background.

Meet Rebecca!

Rebecca is a grade school teacher. She knew from an early age that she wanted to teach. In training to become a teacher, she herself became well-educated and developed the patience and understanding required to work with kids.

Rebecca also went through a truly, utterly devastating breakup. She was sure her relationship with the art teacher was going to be “the one.” When she was betrayed and dumped, the experience altered her views on love.

There may be other aspects of Rebecca’s past that inform who she is when our story starts, but her history as a teacher and her heartbreak trauma can lead us into Rebecca’s story.

Once you understand your character’s background, you can see how this affects their choices by determining their personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws.

Personality Traits

We have all read a character who struck us as flat and undefined. Some characters feel like “Generic Hero #37” because they lack defining traits.

It sounds simple, but a good character trait should set them apart and make them memorable. Every hero worth their salt is “brave,” but not every hero made their name single-handedly fighting off a bandit caravan to protect the town orphanage. You might not remember every character that is “smart,” but when they needed glasses from the strain caused by their passion for studying ancient texts, their bookish nature becomes a defining trait.

Your character’s likes, dislikes, accomplishments, and mannerisms can all be ways their personality has manifested as a defining trait.

Rebecca’s Traits

Let’s return to our heartbroken teacher and give her some traits.

Rebecca is known to let any student in her school borrow books from her sizable collection. By this reputation, we can decide Rebecca has a love of books. She is also passionate about encouraging students to read, even outside of her lessons.

Rebecca does not talk about her personal life. By keeping things strictly professional at work, we can see how her breakup with a fellow teacher has informed her social behaviors now.


Whether your character is good or bad, they should have an ideal that drives them. This should be a principle that informs your character’s core beliefs. When a character doesn’t have a defined ideal, their motivations become weak and inconsistent.

As long as you remember what pushes your character to act, you can either give them chances to prove their convictions or challenges to test them.

Rebecca’s Ideals

The education of children should never be jeopardized by adults’ decisions. Rebecca cares about her students and understands her responsibility to them as an educator. After being at the center of faculty drama a year ago, she refuses to let her personal affairs interfere with her ability to teach.

This ideal can also manifest in opposition to new school policies that could be detrimental to her students. By knowing what Rebecca’s driving ideal is, we can create challenges in the plot that would let her ideals shine.


No man is an island, and this goes double for interesting characters. A bond should represent your character’s relationship to people, places, and events in the setting where they find themselves.

Even a loner character should have a bond, past or present, that explains why they are closed off. For every wanderer who won’t let others into their lives, there is someone or something they cared about and lost.

Rebecca’s Bonds

As a romantic protagonist, romantic bonds are expected, but they should not be the only connection in your character’s life. If your character only has a bond with their love interest, they can fall into the trap of “not existing” socially outside of that relationship, so proceed with caution.

Rebecca would go above and beyond to ensure her students have someone looking out for them. We have established Rebecca’s connection with her students. Education is one of her responsibilities, but she also prioritizes the well-being of the children in her class.

When one of her students is struggling after losing a parent last year, she would reach out to the kid’s current guardian to discuss ways to help. And as we know…

Rebecca keeps the parents of her students at arm’s length. This makes it all the more terrifying when Rebecca develops a rapport and even chemistry with her student’s guardian.


Flaws are what make us human and what keep characters from becoming boring. There is nothing more exhausting than reading about a character who always makes the right choices, has no weaknesses, or lacks a secret vice.

Character flaws can justify someone acting against their own best interest, creating conflict. Whether internal or external, most stories are driven by conflicts. They give your character the chance to be wrong, and the opportunity to grow from their mistakes.

Small flaws might be harmless quirks, but a major flaw can be the thing standing between a character and their happy ending. If you, as an author, can help your character resolve their major flaw, you can craft a satisfying conclusion to their arc.

Rebecca’s Flaws

Rebecca puts up an emotional wall against any single adult trying to connect with her. Despite her sterling reputation as a beloved teacher, Rebecca is standoffish and awkward with other adults. She displays emotionally avoidant behavior, and since she lives in a romance novel, her arc will involve letting down her walls and developing healthy, emotional connections.

We Are Greater Than The Sum of Our Parts

As you can probably tell, the different aspects of a character’s personality don’t exist separately from one another. Your background can affect your traits. Your flaws can impact how you form bonds. Just like people, characters can be complicated, and a character with multiple layers is a character with depth.

Whether your protagonist is a halfling bard or a Manhattan fashion designer, you might be surprised by the value you can get from a well-defined character sheet.