You know when you meet someone and think, “What a character!”
Because they’re inspirational.
Or have lived a life of adventure.
Or have had so many bizarre things happen in their lives, you can’t possibly believe them.
Or because they annoy you so badly you can’t stop thinking about them.
They make you want to get to know the person better. Aka. Character development.
In On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft of Writing, Stephen King talks about situational writing. Put two people in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. One is a famous writer who has been incapacitated after a car accident and wants to go home. The other is his biggest fan who never wants him to leave. Then the situation moves the plot.
Characters move your story forward because of who they are.
Once you have your character sitting right there in your head, all you really need to do is wind them up, put them down, and simply write down what they do, say, or think.
All you have to do is create your character. There are many techniques to develop characters, and here are 9 character writing prompts to get your mind wondering.
The “What’s for dinner?” character writing prompt
Write a scene of your character deciding what she wants to eat for dinner on a Friday night.
Some ideas to explore: What’s your character’s favorite food? Would they eat at McDonald’s? Will they eat anything or are they super picky?
What’s your superhero power?
Each of us has a superhero power. What’s your characters superhero power? How does it impact their life?
“You” can be the main character of your novel-in-the-works or actually you if you’re working on a memoir. Define superhero power in whatever way it works for you.
Character writing prompts to get to know you better
As per Terry Pratchett’s character building, when you know your character well enough, you know what they’ll do in any given situation. What better way to dive into your character’s traits than by taking a personality test?
Have your character fill out the 16 Personalities personality test.
As you answer each question, think about why this is the case for your character. If you don’t know an answer, free write for ten minutes exploring ideas until you can answer it.
Which character and what personality type she/he/they have. In the end, the test gives you a list of people who are the same personality type. How do they compare to your character?
Actions speak louder than words.
Write a scene in which one or more characters don’t speak and instead convey their thoughts and desires through their body language and action.
Perfection is boring.
What’s your character’s biggest flaw? And how does that flaw drive the action of the story?
An example from the book I just wrote: My bad guy character badly wants to be loved, he’ll manipulate and torture others until they develop a Stockholm Syndrome-like attachment to him. But he knows that kind of forced love isn’t real and those he tortures ultimately betray him.
Write a scene exposing your characters fatal flaw.
What’s the truth?
You open up the paper to see your photo on the front page. Not big but on the front page nonetheless. The headline of that article? “Lies, lies, it’s all lies.” How did this happen? You can mix this one up by writing it from the point of view of one of your characters, too.
Uncovering the Hidden Character writing prompt
It’s easy to forget our narrators are characters in our books as much as any other. Do you know your narrator? Is s/he/they reliable? What does s/he/they want?
Write the most frightening experience of your narrator’s life.
This might be part of your book or story; it might not. The goal of this prompt is to get to know your narrator and how their voice impacts the telling of your story.
Is it a memoir or is it fiction?
Whether you’re writing based on your journal or writing a memoir, you’ll bump against the line between truth and fiction. Will you tell the whole truth? Will you cut parts to obscure reality?
Create a character based on a secret about someone you know and write a scene. What parts of the character reflect reality? Is the person identifiable? What real life will you keep? What will you cut in order to tell your story?
Along the way, you may find yourself thinking, “What will people think about this when it’s published?” Ignore it. Keep writing.
Paint a picture with a thousand words
Choose two characters. There’s a conflict between them. Write a scene using only dialogue to show the details of the conflict, what the characters look like and who they are.
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