Set a timer and start free-writing from one of your character's perspectives. Try to really get inside their head — what do they want, what ticks them off, what do they feel passionate about? Are they writing in a diary, telling a story to a friend, or dictating a formal letter?
Choose a random occupation, a random personality trait, and the trait's opposite. Now, outline a train of events that explains how a person of your chosen occupation changes from having the random trait to having its opposite. Let's take, for example: “martial arts teacher,” "shy," and "confident." What would make a shy martial arts teacher change into a confident one?
Care for a double challenge? Try plotting the opposite path, too: a confident martial arts teacher turns into a shy person. What would cause that? Experiment with unusual occupations and traits to challenge yourself.
Find a collection of traits for download at the end of this article.
Are you finding it difficult to get to know your fictional characters and/or differentiate them from yourself? Try this: Choose a character from your project and let her/him take a walk into a place you know well. Then describe this place from this character’s perspective and ask yourself:
What does (or doesn’t) s/he notice?
How does s/he feel about what she notices? What thoughts do the things s/he notices trigger in her/him? This can be memories, social critique, enjoyment or disgust etc.
How do your character’s impressions of, and responses to, the place differ from yours?
Select a scene that involves 2-3 characters. Write a paragraph from the point of one character. Now write the same interaction from another character’s point of view. For example: your paragraph could involve the point of view of a convenience store clerk contrasted with a customer’s point of view of the same incident.
What does your character want most? Now consider what he needs most. Is what he wants preventing him from gaining what he needs? Or will he have to find what he wants before he can achieve what he needs?
Here is your challenge: for the next week, collect fun names. I’ve collected them for years in a little notebook — from obituaries, news stories, random lists, and spam. Spam is great for funny names. Then go through your notebook, choose a name, and write a short character sketch based off that name. It’s amazing how the names make the characters come to life and start moving the story in fun directions you never expected.
“There are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk but most times they don’t talk at all, ’cause they walkin’. Now, people who talk the talk, when it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walkin’ for them,” said Key in the 2005 film Hustle and Flow. Which of these two types are your characters? Write down an exchange between two of your characters that confronts this very difference between them.