I(and many of the writers I follow) subscribe to the theory that character is the most important part of your novel. The most memorable part of a good book is almost always the characters, but it’s more than that. Your characters, their emotions, actions and reactions are the driving force behind the story, even in story with a highly external plot. It’s why our books so often change dramatically from the outline during the first or second draft–because we’ve gotten to know our characters and realized they wouldn’t act the way we originally imagined.
So how do you get to know your characters? There are almost as many different methods as there are writers. Hell, I’d go so far as to say there are as many ways to develop characters as there are characters in our fiction–I’ve developed almost all my main characters in very different ways. Sure, the starting exercises are the same, but there are a whole fleet of other exercises I’ve used to get to know my characters(and occasionally other people’s) over the years.
Today I’d like to give you the tools to develop your own characters. I’m pretty confident you already know what a good character looks like, so we’re going to jump straight into a collection of the best character exercises I’ve tried(some are linked to the articles where I found them, some no longer exist):
1. Describe your character in three words.
3. Write one page or paragraph about your character’s worst memory, using their first person perspective.
5. Interview your character about a specific part of their past.
7. Write a letter from one supporting character to another.
9. Ask your character to describe their favourite place.
11. Get them to tell you about their education in one paragraph, then expand it to a page.
13. Write one page describing your character’s family from their POV.
15. Write a scene from a support character’s POV about them meeting your character for the first time. Pay close attention to how they describe your character at first glimpse.
All of these character exercises were chosen because they can be completed within an hour(usually less for many of the exercises) but I’ve often found that once I get my characters talking about something one paragraph or even one page is rarely enough. If you have the time to keep going, let your characters ramble–it’s in these moments that you often learn the most.
What is your favourite character development exercise? Let me know in the comments section below!