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7 Character Writing Exercises

April 21, 2016, Character illustration of democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wearing a red pantsuit.

April 21, 2016, Character illustration of democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wearing a red pantsuit.

You can have one of the best story ideas in the world, but if your characters are not developed appropriately, then the story is going to feel dull. Lifeless.

Uninteresting.

On the other hand, if you have characters that are well-developed, then you don’t really need to have an idea for a story to get started on the writing process. Great characters often create a story which is able to write itself.

Like with anything that involves writing, the ability to develop a character is a skill that can be honed. These character writing exercises are designed to help you do just that.

#1. Turn Anything Into a Character

In the world of fiction, nothing is off-limits when it comes to character creation. Look around the room you are in right now. Pick out one object that isn’t a person or animal and turn it into a character. It could be a ceiling fan, a work desk, a PlayStation 4 – anything. Now put into words what your brand new character is thinking. What does the PS4 think about in “rest mode” all night long? Does the desk feel neglected if no work is being done?

#2. Create 10 Lies

Think up 10 outrageous lies about yourself. There are no limits with this exercise. Maybe you’re an astronaut. Maybe you invented Nutella. After you create this list, turn the lies about yourself into factual statements about your characters. Now begin to form personality traits around those “new truths” so that you begin to give the character some depth. What are some unique or bizarre characteristics that could help to shape each character’s personality?

#3. Focus on the Back Story

Every character needs a good back story for the reader to be able to relate to them. We often meet characters as strangers, just as we do real people, but as the writer you want these characters to become the reader’s friends. Just as a stranger might offer a back story here or there about their life over time as a friendship develops, a character must do so as well. If you write the back stories out first for each character, then it becomes easier to include these details within the overall narrative.

#4. The Problem With Contradictions

We often see contractions as “hypocritical” in today’s world, but every single person has some level of contradictions that define who they are. People who are peaceful become aggressive if threatened a certain way. People who only look out for themselves will help one particular group in need. Some people are humble in all areas of life except their work accomplishments. Add some contractions to your characters and you really will help to bring them back to life.

#5. If I Were an Animal…

If your characters were turned into animals, what animals would they be and why? What would they want to do all day? If you don’t like the idea of this transformation, you can always turn your characters into songs, into food, into video games, into buildings… pretty much anything. The transformation is less important than the question being asked: why? When you can answer that question in a character development exercise, then you’ll be able to give some added depth for the reader to enjoy.

#6. Musical Chairs

When we think of a character, there’s a good chance that we’re already thinking of a specific role for them to fulfill. What we don’t think about is how people interact differently with unique groups of people. Someone might interact differently with their mother than, say their boss, for example. Take a look at each type of interaction a character might have. Include neighbors, lovers, friends, enemies – nothing is off-limits. Then write out what your character would say to each group.

#7. The Poetry Challenge

If your character is already well-developed, in your opinion anyway, then it’s time to test that hypothesis. You can do this by writing a short poem from the viewpoint of your character. Put yourself into the character’s shoes and imagine what they would say – and then say it. The style of poem is less important than the actual words being used. Make it a Dr. Seuss story or write a simple haiku – it’s up to you.

These character writing exercises will help you add more depth to your writing because you’re bringing readers deeper into what makes each character human. Try one of them or try them all and your characters might thank you for your efforts at the end of the day.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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