Five Writing Exercises to Enhance Character Development
One of the most crucial aspects of memorable writing is found in the art of creating convincing character development. Readers often look for relatability and believability, and if our characters cannot offer this, it can make our stories less engageable for our readers. Not only should our readers be convinced that our stories are believable, but our characters need to be dynamic – meaning they pop off the page with agency. In order to achieve dynamic character development and in turn create meaningful arcs, we need to learn how to nurture our beloved creations by getting to know them inside and out. Here are five of my personal, original writing exercises I use for my own characters that you can now experiment with in order to enhance your character’s development.
1. Childhood Memories
In this writing exercise, you will explore your character’s childhood memories. Who we are today as writers has been largely impacted by our upbringings and younger years as we journeyed through childhood and adolescence. Your character was most likely a child at some point, so write about a memory or scene showcasing a meaningful highlight or lowlight in your character’s younger years. Oftentimes, our own childhood memories may be reflected in our character’s youth. Are there any lessons or pieces of childhood advice that impacted your character? Perhaps the mother of your character used to always make cinnamon pies when your character was a child, and now the smell of cinnamon gives them nostalgic comfort. Your character may have been raised in an abusive environment, and it explains why now they have trouble trusting other characters and learning how to be loved. Maybe your character’s close grandmother had a special souvenir spoon collection, and now when your character travels, they buy souvenir spoons in remembrance of her. If your character is already a child, then write about what they would be like as an adult. By knowing your character’s childhood, you are able to understand your character’s growth more while also providing a believable background to convince your reader that your character could exist.
2. Seasons and Months
There are four beautifully distinct seasons that we experience each year, and in this writing exercise, your character will represent one. Which season of the year best reflects your character’s personality and appearance? If you really understand your character, then you can be more specific and choose a particular month that portrays your character. Write about the positive and negative comparisons between that month and your character. Perhaps your character is April; she is a graceful pianist and is blooming with potential, but she has many rainy days that withhold her from trusting in her ability. She thinks she is held back by these spring storms, but in reality, she blossoms in her talent after such hardship. Little does she know that summer is right around the corner. Maybe your character is October; he has a cool, shady presence, and his voice has a crisp, soothing tone that attracts many, but his insecurities pile like autumn leaves. What feeling do they give off? This exercise should give you a new, unique perspective on your character.
3. Fear versus Character
What is one of your character’s deepest fears? Fear is within us all, and it says a lot about what kind of person your character is – especially after writing about how they handle it. Write about a confrontation between your character and their worst fear. What does the scene look like, and how will your character react? Will they embrace such apprehension, or will they tackle it head-on? Perhaps your character was abandoned by their biological father when they were younger (you could combine this exercise with 'Childhood Memories') and now fears betrayal and abandonment. What if one of their closest friends or family members leaves them? What will be their response, and how will they (possibly) overcome this? Or, maybe their fear is more literal. Your character has a deep fear of water and swimming due to a near-death experience, but now they must rescue a child who fell in the deep end of an in-ground pool. Your character may be agoraphobic or have a specific fear of something, someone, or a concept. This is beneficial for character development because it makes your character relatable and human – of course, unless your character is not a human. Even if your ‘Fear versus Character’ scene never appears in your novel, it is still a significant aspect of your character that you as the creator should know.
4. Can You Feel the Love?
One of the greatest pleasures and pains of life is being in love. Even if your character has an impenetrable wall of neutrality, it is important to know what your character looks like when they are experiencing love. Write about your character embracing or fighting love and how their typical character traits and flaws are brought out or changed by this intoxicating sensation. For this example, let’s implement the exercises ‘Childhood Memories’ and ‘Fear versus Character.’ Suppose your character faced betrayal of any sort many times in their adolescence, so now they fear intimacy and rejection as a result. How will your character react when they fall in love with their best friend? You could choose to follow the path of mutual connection, or you could make your character experience that rejection again. How will they react to intimacy or lack thereof? Perhaps your character is in love with their perfect complementary opposite despite all efforts to despise them, but it builds both of them up to a higher sense of self. How can you relay this connection in a convincing manner? Make sure this connection or heartbreak is actually realistic and believable, and again – even if this arc does not appear in your novel, it gives you as the writer more insight into the deeper, finer parts of your character’s psyche and what it takes to win their heart.
5. Freedom Flight
What is your character’s passion that sets them free? Which aspect of freedom motivates their actions? In this writing exercise, you will write about a scene where your character experiences a ‘Freedom Flight.’ For example, your character may have a passion for painting, and in the midst of decorating a canvas, they have an epiphany about life. Their final painting results in a reflection or answer to something in their life. Your character may adore boating, so detail their experience while sailing and the elation and liberation that they feel when adventuring through the vastness of the ocean. Perhaps it symbolizes something about their life, and this creates meaning for both the writer and reader. What does freedom look like to your character? Better yet – how can this freedom relate to both you and the reader?
Stories revolve around characters and the decisions they make, and these characters reflect the human condition which is why we love telling and hearing stories. Everyone has a story, but the way we choose to tell it impacts its effectiveness. Whether in television, film, books, podcasts, or otherwise, we learn something about ourselves through the characters we find on the screen of a television or between the pages of a believable book. The key to creating a successful story is to understand the people and themes you’re writing about – and that starts with character development. I hope my five writing exercises aid you on your journey in telling significant stories for the world. Have fun, and happy writing!