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Creating Characters: 4 Simple Exercises

Here are 4 simple exercises to help you invent characters for your fiction. by Nancy Kress

1. WRITE MINI BIOS FOR YOUR DREAM CAST
Make a list of characters you either might want to write about or have begun to write about. Three or four will do. Fill out a mini bio for each, listing the basics: age, name, marital status, family ties, occupation, appearance and general thoughts and feelings.

Now study each mini-bio, imagining that character as the star of your story. He will receive the most attention from you and the readers, the highest word count, the emotional arc (if there is one) and the climactic scene. How does the story change when you recast it?

2. DRAW INSPIRATION FROM THE NEWS

Read today’s newspaper and look for people who spark your imagination. When you find one, write down everything you actually know about this person. Next, fill out a mini-bio similar to those you created in the previous exercise, inventing answers to the questions you don’t know. Is this someone you’d like to build a story around?

3. EXPLORE CHARACTER ARCS
Pick a novel or story you like and know well. Write a few sentences describing the protagonist at the start of the work: his attitudes, beliefs and behavior. Now write a few sentences describing that character at the end. Do you see significant differences? Is the character a changer or a stayer? How would you describe his emotional arc?

4. RECAST A CLASSIC

Pick out another story or book you know very well and list the major characters. Look at each one and think how different the story would be with a different star. Take, for instance, Sleeping Beauty. If the princess were not the heroine but instead a featured player (maybe even a bit player), who might star? Perhaps the prince, with the story becoming his struggle to find a bride. Perhaps the bad fairy who put a spell on the princess—whatever happened to her? In fact, some of these stories have been written. Same plot, different stars.

Excerpted from Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint © 2005 by NANCY KRESS, with permission from Writer’s Digest Books.


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