Creating Characters: 4 Simple Exercises

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

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


Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.

Weinstein_1:21

The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.

Stottlemyre_1:21

Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.

plot_twist_story_prompts_take_a_trip_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.

Probst_1:20

Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.

Wrobel_1:20

Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.

who_are_the_inaugural_poets_for_united_states_presidents_robert_lee_brewer

Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.

precedent_vs_president_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.