Three Great Writing Exercises for Developing Your Characters
by Gianna Forgen
We’ve all been there: you sit down to write that great story idea, and something is missing or falling flat. Sometimes, we put so much thought into our plot or worldbuilding that we almost completely neglect our characters, and we fail to make them as strong as they could be. No one wants to read a flat character, or root for a hero who they cannot relate to or understand. Here are three great writing exercises you can use that will help you get to know your characters better.
1. Interview them.
One of the reasons people tend to love watching talk-shows
is that they give viewers an opportunity to get to know different celebrities better. An actor may seem untouchable in a movie, but when you see them being interviewed on TV, they start to feel more human.
Mimicking this style of interview with your character(s) can help you start to get a better sense of them in just the same way! Create a list of questions you’d like to ask your character, whether it be personal, general, or totally random. You might watch some celebrity interviews for inspiration. Once you’ve interviewed your character, you’ll start to see them as a more concrete person, rather than something flat.
2. Pack their suitcase.
When we pack for vacation or an overnight trip, sometimes we end up packing items or outfits that are very telling of us. The number of pairs of socks we bring, how much we consider suitcase space, and even whether we take generic trial-size toiletries can all speak to who we are as people.
For this exercise, pack your character’s suitcase. It could be helpful to choose where they’re going, too. Is it a conference? A vacation? Are they flying home for a funeral or wedding? Once you’ve chosen the reason and destination, start packing. Get specific with details; make note of amounts, name-brands, color choices, and fabrics. Pack a carry-on too, if you think they’d take one. Think about whether they’d like to read a book on a plane ride, watch a movie, or talk with a neighbor. Note how the smallest details can say a lot about your character.
3. Take them out with you.
Just like with packing a suitcase, you can learn a lot about someone through mundane tasks. Pick a day to take the characters from a work-in-progress with you everywhere you go. Running to the pharmacy? See if they decide to grab snacks while they’re there. Making a fast food stop? Pay attention to what everyone orders, and how they talk to the employees and each other. Need to do some serious cleaning? Take note of who wants what task, and how committed they are to what they choose.
While your characters might never need to go grocery shopping in your story, the way they behave and interact with their surroundings in the supermarket could easily translate somewhere else that is relevant to your work. Your reader might never need to know that Bob’s favorite fruit is a kiwi, but you know, and in some way, that little piece of knowledge is going to inform your work and make your character stronger.
Fleshing out characters can be tough, and even scary if it’s not something you feel is your strong suit. By taking the time to really get to know your character, whether it be directly speaking with them, watching them pack for a cruise, or seeing how they fold a fitted sheet, you give yourself a super important opportunity to strengthen your writing. Once you’ve developed them, writing scenes with them will–hopefully–come a bit easier.
Happy writing, and get to knowing those characters!