5 Short Exercises to Develop Character

Character is for many writers the driving force of their fiction. Knowing your characters thoroughly is just as important as knowing your plot. Sometimes, it’s even more important. When character comes second to plot, characters often seem stereotypical and dialogue becomes wooden. In order to make your fiction come to life you must bring your characters, especially your main character, come to life for the character.

I’ve compiled a list of exercises to help you develop your characters. You can do one of them or all of them for any and all of your characters. How much work you do to prepare for Nanowrimo is really up to you, but it’s good to have a basic grasp of your characters, setting and plot before you begin. It helps to make for less rewriting.

So how can you develop your characters?

1. Interview your character. This is a fairly common technique in which you interview your character as if for a magazine. Ask your character what their favourite colour is, what their childhood was like, and what made them who they are today. If your character is well known for some reason before the story begins, ask them specific questions about what it is that makes them so well known. Write what you learn down on a separate fact sheet afterwards. Fact sheets are very valuable resources to have when you’re in the midst of writing the book. It’s easier when you don’t have to look through pages and pages of prose to find a useful piece of information.

2. Write about your character’s first love. How somebody acts towards somebody they love, or at least claim to love, is usually a pretty good indicator of their personality in general. Focus on how your character feels about this person and how they express their feelings. If they’ve never fallen in love before, write about a very close friend or mentor who they are no longer connected to. By examining how they think about the person they love and how they communicate with that person, you can figure out whether they are trustworthy or not, whether they tend to obsess over people or things, and how they react to loss. Knowing how your character reacts in a number of different situations is vital to making them come to life on the page.

3. Map out your character’s family. Create a family tree for your character. Figure out at least who their parents and siblings are, and whether or not their siblings have children. I prefer to begin with their grandparents. As you’re mapping them out, write down one sentence about each person in the family. When you’ve finished, write a paragraph or two about how they all get along. Take as much or as little time as you need, and write it from anyone’s point of view–a random stranger is fine here, too.

4. Write about the first time your character meets someone–from the other person’s point of view. It’s important to know your characters very well: what they do for entertainment, how they see themselves, and how others see them. Sometimes writing about one of your characters from the point of view of a stranger tells you a lot about that character. It’s good to know how they are when meeting new people and how they come across to others when you’re in the thick of the book. The more you know about how your character interacts with people, the more realistic you can make their interactions throughout the book.

5. Write about what your character does on an ordinary day. Think of this as a Dear Diary post. It’s really up to the character and how they live what is said and how many words it’s said in. If your character lives a boring life or isn’t very wordy, this exercise might only be a couple of sentences. If your character likes to describe things intimately or lives a life of constant adventure, you might write a couple hundred words. Focus on what they do on a normal weekday, whether it be farming, bartending, or running a large corporation. It’s always good to know what your character does when they’re not saving the day in your novel.

I hope these exercises work for you. I’ve done each at least once and I’ve always learned something. Some characters are easier to learn about than others. Just like real people, some of them are shy and others are mean. Some have hard exteriors but are really all gooey on the inside. Some are waiting to kill you in your sleep. Some exercises will work better with one character than with another. Figure out what works for you, and figure out those characters.

If you liked this blog post and you’re looking forward to Nanowrimo too, please sponsor me this Nanowrimo season.

How do you develop character?

The End of the Dear Diary Project

Today, September thirtieth, marks the end of this month and with it the end of this year’s Dear Diary Project. Hopefully today you’ll be able to give your Dear Diary Project an ending that will tie it up nicely. If not, don’t worry too much about it–after all, it’s not like your character’s life is ending, so why should their diary? If you have the time, you can even keep going with your Dear Diary Project. I won’t stop you, but I will tell you that now is probably a good time to move on to a new project, and unless you have the time to do both, I’d suggest ending your Dear Diary Project now.

What should you do once you’ve finished your Dear Diary Project? First, give yourself a pat on the back for finishing it. Then join me on Wednesday to talk about how to make the most out of your Dear Diary Project. Start something new–a short story, planning for a new novel, a new blog, whatever strikes your fancy. And don’t forget that it’s October now, and Nanowrimo is right around the corner.

Me, I have to work on Moonshadow’s legal code, but I hope to get a little bit more editing done before November starts. And I’ll be pulling out a binder with notes for a story idea I had last year but which I never ended up writing, blowing the dust off of it, and making sure it’s ready to be my Nanovel.

There are going to be some big changes around here, which I’ll talk more about on Monday, but right now what I can promise you for the next month is information on making the most out of your Dear Diary Project, how to prepare for Nanowrimo, and a couple of writing exercises I hope you’ll find useful. In the meantime, there are a couple questions I’d like to ask you:

What did you like about the Dear Diary Project? What do you think would make it better for next year?

How to End Your Dear Diary Project

Whether or not you planned it, some sort of structure and story arc has probably appeared throughout the course of your Dear Diary Project. With only a few days left in the month, it`s time to start thinking about how you`re going to end your Dear Diary Project and finish your story arc. It`s important to write something which will tie up a couple of loose ends and feel satisfying as an ending to both you and your character.

There are lots of ways to end your Dear Diary Project, and what is most effective depends on you, your character, and what you`ve written so far. You should spend at least a little bit of time during the next few days planning and setting up hints for the end of your Dear Diary Project, whatever that is going to look like.

Here are some ideas for ways to end your Dear Diary Project:

1. A New Journey– Over the last thirty days, I am sure your character has changed, and so have the people around them. It can be surprising how rapidly people change, and how rarely somebody you met a month or two ago is the same person when you meet them again. The changes in your character’s life and psyche can be leading them down a new path at the end of your Dear Diary Project. It may be that your character leaves home now for the first time, or that they choose a career path they’d never really thought about. Whatever it is, the introduction of something completely new will both end the story well and show that the character’s life goes on.

2. A New Friend/Lover– Another interesting way to end your Dear Diary Project is with a meeting. Your character might meet someone new, or they might suddenly realize that a person they’ve never talked to is actually really nice. They might have been waiting for something like this to happen all month, but then again, maybe they haven’t been. Writing down the moment in which they truly gain the new friend or lover, and showing their emotional reaction to it both in the moment and afterwards, also rounds off the story nicely.

3. A Great Loss– We’ve all lost somebody at some point in our lives. Your character is much the same–and if they haven’t lost anyone yet, they’re sure to lose someone eventually. Loss can be a powerful moment in your character’s life, and their reaction to it can show you so much character. As a bonus, this ending gives you extra depth, and an opportunity to let your character really grow. What if they actually stop writing their own diary when you do, because they are so depressed from their loss? It happens to lots of people. We all react to grief differently, and from the point of view of characterization, this is one of the best endings.

4. Something Completely Different– Really, you can end your Dear Diary Project however you want. It’s up to you and your character to find the best ending for your Dear Diary Project. Just make sure that the ending makes sense considering your character and the story you’ve been telling.

Personally, this has been the easiest Dear Diary for me to write, and it will be the easiest to end as well–I decided on the ending more than a week ago. That said, I think it’s also the one I’ve learned the most from. I hope you’ve learned a lot so far. Next week I’m going to talk about how to get the most out of your Dear Diary Project, but in the meantime, enjoy the last few days of your Dear Diary Project.

Have you thought of an ending for your Dear Diary Project yet?

Dear Diary Entry

Today I would like to share with you one of my own Dear Diary Entries, which I hope you will enjoy. My Dear Diary Project is written by Riana, the main character of Moonshadow’s Guardian. At this time she called herself Naomi, and she lived at Home, the gloomy red caverns where demons are sent when they hit puberty and gain access to their powers. She’s just begun swordplay lessons.

Enjoy.

Day Nineteen
Today began with a long run all around the town. I’m slowly getting used to the atmosphere of darkness, what with almost all the stone being black and the gargoyles hanging onto the corners of every building, and the sick, twisted plants growing in the narrow spaces between houses. I still don’t like it, but I’m getting used to it now. The sights don’t horrify me the way they did when I first arrived. Even though it’s only been a couple of months, I feel like I’ve aged a hundred years—I was just a scared little girl when I got here, but now I’m becoming a woman.
A woman who feels like she is always being watched. I swear sometimes I see yellow orbs like eyeballs lurking in the shadows. Sometimes when I’m going to sleep I hear movements outside the door, but if ever I go to check, there is nobody there. The door is thick and wooden and protected by powerful spells—all the doors here are, to keep demons from being killed in the middle of the night. We like to die in a proper fight, around here. But I suspect that the people who are watching me will never actually seek a physical confrontation. If I am to be punished by them, it will be in the official way, and I’ll never get a chance to truly fight for myself. People aren’t really given trials around here. A ‘trial’ around here is really the Family deciding how to punish people they don’t like.

Then again, in the Magi Plains, people don’t usually get trials either. They just get their limbs or titles removed. Sometimes they get banished to some far away place. If it’s somebody really important, or if the crime was really drastic, they might get a trial. The four families don’t like to kill innocents, so if it’s a crime that people are usually executed for, they like to enforce trials. Of course, the judges are all cousins of one of the four families and they usually rule against the poorer party, but at least it’s some kind of trial.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too worried about it. I’m not Merrique’s lover right now, and they won’t actively try to harm me until I am. For now I just need to focus on my training—several hours of repetitive motions, trying to make each one faster than the last one. I’ll fight those battles when I have to.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Today, or sometime this weekend, I would like you to do something completely different–something I’m trying for the first time, too–and write two Dear Diary entries. The interesting part? One will be the character whose diary you’ve already been working on this month, and the other will be a character of your choosing. It doesn’t have to be somebody who will be in the main story you’re working on. It might be more beneficial to you if it can be, because you’ll get more used to their voice as well, but if it’s not plausible at the time you’re writing in, don’t force it.

On this particular day in your character’s life, they’ve met somebody new and intriguing. Have them describe in as much detail as they usually would the moment in which they met this person. Notice the way that your character describes their clothes, and pay particular attention to how they feel about the person and why. You can make the meeting as simple or as complicated as you want. Focus on the emotions of the moment. Don’t forget to have some fun with it.

Then you’re going to write an entry about the exact same meeting from the other character’s point of view. They’ve just met your character for the very first time–how does that character come across? Odds are, what your character thinks about themselves and what other people think of them will be pretty different. Pay attention to what they think of your character and why. It’ll come in handy when writing about them from other PoVs in the future, and when writing interactions between them and other characters in the future.

Have a great weekend, and please share the first sentence from each of these entries.

It’s a Writing Exercise

In order to more fully develop the characters in Moonshadow’s Guardian, I’ve written up a list of writing exercises and I’m going to work my way through them. Some of them are meant to be scenes, and some of them are meant to be internal monologues. All of them are meant to help me develop my characters and the relationships between them. I want to spend some more time writing out Riana’s childhood. I also want to develop some of the smaller characters-the king and a couple of the soldiers travelling with Riana-further. My first few exercises are going to hop from character to character, focusing on developing each individual. Then I’m going to start working on developing the relationships between the characters, writing off-stage dialogue scenes.

Each week I’ll be posting one of these exercises. I hope you’ll come with me on my journey to discover my characters. By writing a few carefully chosen moments in our characters’ lives, we can learn a lot more about them. Our voices will grow with each new exercise, and hopefully we’ll have some fun too. These exercises aren’t supposed to be a big deal though, so don’t let them get longer than a couple of pages.

This week, I’d like you to write an internal monologue for one of your characters. They should be talking about their first love.

And here’s part of my exercise:

I leaned forward. “Did you mean to kiss me last night?”
“I did.” His expression remained unchanged; a true king rarely showed his emotions.
“Do you mean…” Here I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. “Do you mean to kiss me again?”
Now he smiled. “I do.”
“Does that mean you love me?” I asked. I covered my mouth as soon as I’d spoken; I didn’t mean to be so up front about it.
“It does.” He stood up and began to pace. “I shouldn’t, though. It’s bad for my reputation, you know. I’m a king and all that. I can’t just love whoever I want. She has to be noble, the marriage has to be politically advantageous, and she has to be human. And I have to marry her.”
“You should be able to love whoever you want,” I said.
“I should be, but I’m not.” He stopped and leaned close to me, lifting my chin until I was looking into his eyes. “Only the poor get to choose their brides.”
“All kings are corrupt in one manner or another,” I said, “loving somebody inappropriate is one of the lesser crimes.”
He sighed. “I suppose.”
“And if we’re careful, nobody will find out until long after you’re dead.”
“I doubt we’ll be that lucky,” he said, “but maybe, for once in my life, I shouldn’t let that stop me. Maybe I should just love, the way I want to love.”

Please post your favourite paragraph from your writing exercise.