Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Writing Characters (3 Exercises) #amwriting

Like any writer, I’ve read a number of craft books—the how to write your book books. I’ve got no less than 15 on my shelves, which I’ve rationalized keeping only because I can make copies of exercises and chapters and push them off on unsuspecting students in my creative writing classes. :) Here are a few exercises on building characters:

THE FAVORITE (modification of exercise found in Characters, Emotion, Viewpoint)

It is probably best to start with what you know well. So pick a story that you love and list the major characters from that story. Beside each character list what they want. Now, read through the story and underline everything that shows how the character tries to fulfill this desire.  Did the author use brief details/, isolated paragraph of exposition, flashbacks, deep emotional moments? How did this author build this character and make their motivations clear?

Both Writing the Breakout Novel (Maass) and Writing Magic (Levine)  make mention of the interview. The idea is pretty straightforward. In order to get to know your character better, you should interview them. Here are some common questions:

Name/Nickname (if any and how they got it)
Kind of being (human, animal, creature, etc.; and how they feel about it)
Physical description (Age, sex, appearance; how they feel about it)
Occupation (and how they feel about it)
Family members/Pets/Best Friends (and how they feel about them)
His or her room (and how they feel about it)
Items in his/her pockets, backpack, or purse:
Talents, abilities, or powers (and how they feel about it)
Redeeming traits:

And so on…notice I put quite a bit of emphasis on and how they feel about it. This is because creating the details and appearance of your characters is important—but so is their emotional personality.


This exercises calls for you to write a backstory scene for your character(s) and then connect it to their current situation. How does their past relate to what they want now? How will that previous experience inform their current choices? This is also the exercise that starts taking you in the direction of story, narrative, and plot.

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