Character Development

Do The Unexpected

Humans are highly resistant to change — for a character to believably undergo a personal journey that substantially alters them, something HUGE and specific must happen to them. This event doesn't have to happen in your story, but once you can identify your character’s limits, you can determine what is required to create a potential change in their fundamental nature.

For this exercise, determine what this catalyst for change might be by considering situations or attributes that feel counterintuitive. For instance, if your character is a Good Samaritan, it is unlikely they would commit a crime. What would have to be at stake for this unlikely situation to happen — and for a core part of your character to change?

Character Development

Take Your Characters On A Test Drive

Sometimes a bad case of writer’s block boils down to a broken connection between you and your protagonist, and the solution can be a change of scenery. Not for you — for your character! Writing prompts are a good way to get the creative juices flowing and can help you clear out the block so your character can continue down your story’s path. For a weekly supply of fresh writing prompts, head here:

Character Development

Less Talk, More Action

Try your hand at conveying your character through action by first writing a list of physical traits that apply to your character. Next, with that list at hand, write a scene where something is happening — whether it’s a conversation, laundry-folding, cooking, etc. Weave references to your character’s physicality into the action.

Character Development

Break The Ice

Further chip away at your character and establish how they present themselves to others by imagining how they would briefly describe themselves in the following situations:

  1. In a job interview
  2. On a first date
  3. Catching up with an old friend
  4. Flirting with someone at a party
  5. In their twitter bio
  6. At the border between the US and Mexico
Character Development

The Gatsby Method

Establishing how your character is perceived by others is a great way to give them greater context. It can provide the author with expectations to subvert for the reader and add an interesting mystique to the character.
To give the Gatsby Method a go, write a scene in which your character is only present through the candid descriptions of him/her by others.

Character Development


Create a timeline of the significant moments of your character’s life. Like many authors, you can use post-it notes or a big whiteboard to visualize your character’s life. You can easily move or add events until you feel your character has a well-developed history. After you’ve finished the timeline, distill it into the top 5-10 moments that have shaped your character. For instance, if loss is a thematically important part of your book, perhaps a significant part of your character’s past is when they lost a grandparent as a child.

Character Development

Put Your Characters Through The Wringer

Develop your characters by placing them in a situation where they are faced with a challenge. For conflict inspiration, look no further than these classic moral dilemmas (and, of course, analyze them from the perspective of your character). For an example of a moral dilemma, search "The Trolly Problem."

Character Development

The Truth Shall Set Your Characters Free

In order to dive deeper into your character’s emotional depths, ask a round of questions — both probing and seemingly innocuous alike. (Hey, you never know when your character’s favorite choice of ice cream topping might come in handy!) While we encourage you to build and refine your own set of questions, these questionnaires will provide solid inspiration for now: Arthur Aron’s 36 Questions That Lead to Love, and The Proust Questionnaire.

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