Creating Dynamic Characters: A Writing Exercise

Sunday, May 16, 2010

By: Anne Greenawalt

Writers know that creating strong, memorable characters is one of the most (if not the most) important part of writing a story. In a blog post earlier this month, I wrote about how to create dynamic characters in five easy steps. And now, as promised, I am following-up with a character-creation writing exercise.

This is one of my favorite writing exercises and benefits writers of every age and writing level. I learned this exercise as an undergraduate. I have lead several creative writing workshops for students ranging in age from nine to 18 who also benefited from it. Adult writers have also told me they find this exercise useful, so I hope you will, too.

The Character List

First, consider the character you’d like to develop. Next, grab a piece of paper, or open a blank word document, and jot down an answer or description that matches each of the categories below. Feel free to add your own categories to this list.

· Character’s name and age
· Hair color and style
· Nose shape and size
· Most noticeable feature
· Type of clothing
· Body type
· Education
· Occupation
· Describe a scar or tattoo
· Describe character’s voice
· List a phrase your character often says
· Favorite food
· Least favorite food
· Favorite past time
· Worst nightmare
· Best childhood memory
· Most embarrassing moment
· Life goal
· Describe best friendDescribe worst enemy

The Character Scenario

Now, using this new information, you can write a short one-page story about your character. Here is the scenario – your character boards a plane going to _________ (insert location of your choice). As your character settles into her/his/it’s seat, her/his/it’s worst enemy sits in the seat beside her/him/it. What happens? If you get on a roll and want to write more than a page, that’s fine.

The exercise will help you see and hear your character, learn your character’s thoughts, see your character’s actions and how your character interacts with others. These are all key elements to creating a great character. It’s important for a writer to know her/his characters inside and out. You should know your characters’ birthdays, what their parents were like, how many times they have seen the Shrek movies. It’s useful for you, as the writer, to know this information even if it is not a part of your story or novel.

Other Character-Creation Exercises

Still need more help getting to know your characters? The character interview is another great method for developing your character. First, imagine you are your character. Next, have friends, family or writing group members interview you. You have to answer each of their questions from the perspective of your character.

Do you have any other character-creation exercises you find helpful? Please share! We’d love to hear them.

When Anne Greenawalt ( was in second grade, she used to write letters to herself pretending to be her story characters.


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