Character Development

But Why?

Keep asking your characters why. Here’s an example:

  • Why are you grumpy? I have a hangover.
  • Why do you have a hangover? My friend was in a bad accident and I thought he might die?
  • Why did you think he might die? His girlfriend lied to me about how serious the accident was.
  • Why did she lie about that? She’s jealous of our relationship.
  • Why? I think she’s insecure and has trust issues.

Do you see how much that question will dig into a character?

Dialogue

What Did You Say?

Part of writing great dialogue is ensuring each character has a unique voice. Pretend three of your characters have won the lottery. How does each character reveal the big news to their closest friend? Write out their dialogue with unique word choice, tone, and body language in mind.

Writer's Block

Body Language

When writing emotion, it’s easy to become stuck on how to express what the point-of-view character is experiencing. An exercise to try is to pull from your own memory if you feel comfortable doing so. Sit back in your chair, take a few calming breaths, and think back to a time where you experienced this same emotion. Carefully draw up the memory, thinking about the situation, the location, the people involved. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes.

Now, pay attention to your body. Are you relaxed, or tense? Are your muscles tight? Is it easy to breathe, or do you feel restricted? Is your posture curling up, an attempt to hide, or are you twitchy all over and want to leap out of the chair? Make as many notes as you can, and when you go to write, use what you collected to give life to the character’s experience.

Writer's Block

The Power of Words

Write a list of random, free-association words. For creative writing, list ten words across ten columns. Then go to each column and add nine more words so that the result is ten columns and ten rows, a total of one hundred words. Just reading the list and noticing the creative leaps your mind has made may surprise you. If you like, continue the exercise by using all one hundred words in a short fiction piece. For poetry, select the words that suggest a common theme.

Character Development

Through Another Person's Eyes

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.

Plot Development

The Story Swamp

Sometimes writers think up a character and jump straight into writing, without fully fleshing out the concept at a foundational level. This then means they falter and end up writing a very confused draft. I call this ‘The Story Swamp.’

Avoid The Story Swamp by writing a ‘logline’ or ‘pitch’ of approximately 25-60 words. This logline should cover what B2W calls The 3 Cs:

Character: Who is your protagonist? What does s/he need or want?
Conflict: Who is the antagonist? Why does s/he want to stop or counter your protagonist? What other obstacles are in your protagonist’s way?
Clarity: Do we know what genre or type of story this is? Are you using familiar or clichéd language? Are your word choices too vague?

Plot Development

The Motif

Write a list of images you associate with your theme. Now do the same for each of your main characters. Keep these images in mind as a way to present your theme metaphorically through symbolic motifs.

Setting

The Observant Writer

Elegant writers use their material with economy. If they write a scene that introduces a character, they might slip in many other things that are also important, whether it’s a detail about Character A’s birthday, Character A’s relationship with Character B, or the weather. In this exercise, write a paragraph of no more than 300 words and try to fit in ten subtle facts about your character into it, without being obvious about it.

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