Skip to main content

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.


Become a Writer's Digest VIP:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders!Click here to join.

WD Online Course:
Learn techniques to add depth, texture and emotion to your writing:

Creativity & Expression

Also check out these items from the Writer's Digest's collection:
How To Write A Book Proposal
How To Write & Sell Your First Novel
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
Book In A Month
Grammar Sucks: What to Do to Make Your Writing Much More Better
Plot versus Character

Image placeholder title


Elizabeth Shick: On Research Through Immersion

Elizabeth Shick: On Research Through Immersion

Award-winning novelist Elizabeth Shick discusses the complete rewrite she devoted to her debut novel, The Golden Land.

6 Habits Writers Can Learn From Athletes

6 Habits Writers Can Learn From Athletes

Author and athlete Henriette Lazaridis shares six tips and habits that writers can learn from athletes.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Last Chance to Nominate Your Favorite Writing Websites, Our Historical Fiction Virtual Conference, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce the deadline to nominate your favorite writing websites, our Historical Fiction Virtual Conference, and more!

4 Tips for Writing a Modern Retelling

4 Tips for Writing a Modern Retelling

From having reverence for the original to making it your own, author Nikki Payne shares four tips for writing a modern retelling.

Faint vs. Feint (Grammar Rules)

Faint vs. Feint (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use faint vs. feint in your writing with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples. Plus, we answer whether it's "faint of heart" or "feint of heart."

6 Books to Cozy Up With This Winter | Book Recommendations

6 Books to Cozy Up With This Winter

Here are 6 book recommendation perfect for winter reading.

12 Things to Consider When Writing Fight Scenes in Fiction (FightWrite™)

12 Things to Consider When Writing Fight Scenes in Fiction (FightWrite™)

Trained fighter and author Carla Hoch shares 12 things all writers should consider when attempting to write effective fight scenes in fiction.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unreal Character

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unreal Character

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character turn out to be less than they seem.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Next Steps

Here are the final steps for the 15th annual November PAD Chapbook Challenge! Use December and the beginning of January to revise and collect your poems into a chapbook manuscript. Here are some tips and guidelines.