Characters are the backbone of any story. You could have the most exciting plot, unforeseeable twist or imaginative world but if your characters are flat, your readers are unlikely to make it to the end of your story. That’s not to say that your reader must like all your characters – on the contrary, some you will want them to despise – but they do need to care about them.
You have probably heard the term character-driven stories. These are stories that primarily use the characters’ reactions, feelings/internal struggles and relationships to drive the story forward. While this style of book is particularly popular at the moment, they aren’t exactly a new concept either. Jane Auten’s novels are, quite literally, a classic example of a character-driven story. Not much happens in the terms of plot – instead, it’s the characters reactions (both to the events and to each other) that make for an interesting narrative.
So how can we make our characters believable, individual and interesting?
The only real way to do this is to spend some time getting to know them. One of the ways that you can do this is to talk to them. Talking to your fictional characters? That’s weird, right? No! It’s all part of the fun.
And trust me, if you don’t spend time doing it, it will show in your writing.
Now to the main event: The only writing exercise you will need to get to know your characters.
No, I am not talking about those silly questions such as
- What’s your favourite colour?
- What music do you listen to?
Yes, these questions can (maybe) help you get to know your character, but they won’t help you get inside their head and understand how they think and feel. Instead, take an interview approach to this writing exercise. Imagine you are sitting down with your character and asking them these questions. Think about their tone of voice, body language and write these into the side notes.
The best thing about this writing exercise is that you can use it during multiple points in your story to help you get inside your characters head and understand their character arch. Let’s say your character is planning to go to the prom in Act 2 of your novel.
At the beginning of your novel, you can ask your character questions like:
- Are you excited about the prom?
- Do you think you will have a date?
- What dress do you plan on wearing?
Then, once the prom finally rolls around you can sit down and interview your character again. Asking questions like:
- Are you enjoying yourself?
- How did you feel when your crush asked you to dance?
- Why do you think (friends name) left the prom early?
Then, after the prom you can ask questions like:
- Did you ever imagine that your crush would kiss you at the prom?
- What would you have done differently if you had known (friends name) was jealous?
You get the idea. See how you can get an idea of your character’s arch by asking such questions relating to the events, characters and setting of your story?
Spend 5-10 mins writing out questions relating to the events, characters and setting of your story. The number of questions you ask is entirely up to you. The general rule is: The more you ask. The more you will know. I aim for between 10-20 questions for each character. Then spend 2-3 mins answering each of these questions, making sure to add body language and tone of voice into either the dialogue or sidenotes.
I hope you find the writing exercise helpful and have fun sitting down and getting to know your characters.
If you liked this exercise, make sure to check out my Character Development Workbook. It’s free to download and use. Inside you will find 2 additional writing exercises and 2 character worksheets to help you write AMAZING characters. Get your FREE workbook today by filling in the form below.