Building Character(s): A Writing Exercise

Submitted for your consideration, this is an exercise I created for a creative writing workshop I taught a few years ago. Characters are, of course, central to successful, engaging fiction. But these questions might also help for any kind of profile, biography, autobiography, or even for an imaginary profile of a target audience in a marketing/advertising.

You can even think of much science writing as character driven, although in the case of science, the character usually isn’t a person. It’s an organism, a chemical composition, a physical force, a procedure, a device, or some other phenomenon. As with a character, the subject of the scientist’s writing poses some problem—or seems to; it helps us see or understand something, but not necessarily as we expected (otherwise, what would make it worth writing about?).

When I develop of character, I think of three areas: The character’s background, the character’s present external manifestation (appearance, activities, ways of interacting), and present internal manifestation (attitudes, temperament, desires, internal strengths and weaknesses). The questions below cover that, plus a couple of questions about the character’s external circumstances to help drive the potential plot.

So, without further ado:

Building a Character

What does the character look like?

Now does the character dress?

What is the character’s strongest memory from childhood?

What are the character’s most important relationships: family, friends, romance, co-workers?

What common habit that many people engage in annoys or disgusts the character?

What does the character do for a living?

What are the character’s chief interests, activities, and hobbies?

In what way(s) does the character most resemble the person s/he despises?

What one thing does the character make sure s/he does every day, without fail, no matter what else is going on in his/her life?

What does the character most want that s/he doesn’t have?

What external obstacles prevent the character from having this?

What internal obstacles prevent the character from having this?

What is the character’s hole? That is, what perception does the character have of him/herself that prevents the character from trying to become the person s/he wants to be?

On the day the story begins, what in the character’s life has changed, or is about to?

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One thought on “Building Character(s): A Writing Exercise

  1. Reblogged this on Susas Lounge and commented:
    This is a great exercise! It is actually one of the main and recurring themes that keeps coming up when I do ghostwriting resp. get hired to overhaul someone’s story: Most of the time I do not consider the characters convincing… they seem too one-dimensional and I don’t “get” their motivation. I will keep these suggestions in mind and certainly do recommend to give them a try! 🙂

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