Anonymous asked: Hi, so I’m having a character development issue, but with only my main character. I keep feeling like he is either flat or too complex. I’ve done countless worksheet and things, but I just can’t seem to grasp who he is. Can you help me in any way? <3 love your advice by the way.
I always recommend character development sheets as a character development exercise, but try not to take them too seriously/rely on them too heavily.
I suggest switching gears and trying some different character development exercises. There are several that I find to be really helpful when I’m struggling to get to know a character:
1) Reality TV Crew:
This is so much fun I even do it for characters I understand well. :) Start by choosing a point just prior to when your story starts, then pretend a camera crew is following your character through a normal day. Write down everything that happens from the moment your character wakes up until the moment they go to bed. Be sure to explore their interactions with other characters, how they react to good and bad things (good: getting a package in the mail, bad: finding out they have a cavity), what they do to entertain themselves, and how they meet their basic needs. You can even do little reaction interviews, ala The Office or Modern Family where the character divulges their feelings about things that have happened. If it works for you and you want to dive deeper, try to find an important even in their back story and follow them through that day, too.
2) First-Person Free Write
This is kind of like the last one except without a “camera crew.” This one is done in first-person present tense, as if you’re inside your character’s head as they are experiencing an important even in their life. It can be any event that you want, but it’s extra helpful if it is an experience that adds to their back story or has an impact on who they are.
3) Character Interview
For this, you’re going to answer interview questions as if you were your character. There are a number of ways you can go about this. You can look for interviews with real people to help you come up with questions, or you can just wing it and make up a bunch of questions on your own. Either way, make sure you have a good mix of mundane questions like “what is your favorite food” to really profound questions like “if you could go back in time and erase one event from history, what would it be?” Write down all of your questions ahead of time, and then either hand write the answers (remembering that you are the character as you answer), or even better—answer them out loud, either by yourself or with a friend to ask the questions.
4) Alternate Universe Crisis Mode
This is a free write exercise where you drop your character into a crisis that has nothing to do with your plot or back story. This is simply an exercise in possibility—to see how they would react in an extremely stressful situation. It could be a car accident, a ski weekend interrupted by a crazy ax murderer, or devastating earthquake. It doesn’t even have to be a situation in the same time, place, or universe in which your story takes place. If you want to see how your character would have fared in place of one of Henry VIII’s mostly ill-fated wives, go for it! You can even drop your character into your favorite TV show or movie as if they were an additional cast member. This exercise is all about learning who they are as a person. Are they brave or fearful? Do they lead or follow? Are they helping the injured or too squeamish? Are they optimistic or pessimistic? This exercise will tell you a lot about your character.
5) Milestone Map
In this exercise, you’re going to write 1-3 paragraphs, first-person, about all of your character’s major milestones from the first day of school to whatever milestone they hit prior to your story beginning. These don’t even have to be major milestones like getting a driver’s license or going to prom—they can be smaller ones, too, like first babysitting job, first A on a test, first kiss, etc.
6) Character Playlist
One of the first things I do when I create a character is listen to a lot of music. I’ll usually start by listening to “B sides” (the non-hit songs) of my favorite bands and singers. Then I’ll use an app like Pandora (which plays random songs based on your interests) to find new music, or sometimes I’ll sit on YouTube and watch random music videos to find new stuff. Little by little, a playlist will begin to emerge as I hear songs that fit my character. When I have a good list of songs going, I’ll sit down and really listen to the music. More often than not I learn new things about my character this way.
7) Character Board
This one is especially fun if you’re crafty or good with photoshop, but it’s still fun even if you’re not. The object is to create an inspiration board for your character filled with photos of everything from clothing to physical features, and from quotes to items the might own. Anything that reminds you of your character. If you have access to magazines you can tear up, you might do it on a piece of poster board or bulletin board and have fun decorating it old school Or, you might prefer to do a collage in photoshop or an online collage app. You can even do a gallery on Pinterest or Tumblr if you prefer.
8) Visualization Tricks
Sometimes a character’s personality won’t fall into place until you’re able to visualize them. There are a number of ways you can go about getting a good picture of them into your head. If you’re good at drawing, you can try to draw a portrait of them. If you’re not good at drawing, you might enlist a friend or family member who is. Or, if that’s not possible, try looking through the commissions tag on tumblr and see if you can pay someone to do it. Some artists might even be willing to negotiate if you can’t afford to pay them, if there’s something else you can offer them like writing them a piece of fan-fiction, making them a fan-video, or a graphic. Sometimes it’s fun to do a “casting call” and choose an actor or model who looks like your character to “play” them in your mind. It’s very important that you already know what your character looks like before doing this, because the goal isn’t to use an actor as your character. It’s just a way to help you visualize them easier.
If none of these help you get a better handle on your character, there may be something else not working. You might consider putting them into a folder for a future project and try creating a new character for the current story. Sometimes that ends up being the magic trick that gets things flowing again. :)
I have been on Tumblr for nearly four years and steadily been finding great accounts related to writing. Thought I’d share some of my favorites for other writers or aspiring writers.
The Electric Typewriter I am convinced that Dan, the curator of tetw, has…
These are what I would consider to be the most basic, bare-bones questions of character creation.
- What would completely break your character?
- What was the best thing in your character’s life?
- What was the worst thing in your character’s life?
- What seemingly insignificant memories stuck with your character?
- Does your character work so that they can support their hobbies or use their hobbies as a way of filling up the time they aren’t working?
- What is your character reluctant to tell people?
- How does your character feel about sex?
- How many friends does your character have?
- How many friends does your character want?
- What would your character make a scene in public about?
- What would your character give their life for?
- What are your character’s major flaws?
- What does your character pretend or try to care about?
- How does the image your character tries to project differ from the image they actually project?
- What is your character afraid of?
- What is something most people in your setting do that your character thinks is dumb?
- Where would your character fall on a politeness/rudeness scale?
THAT FIRST SITE IS EVERY WRITER’S DREAM DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES I’VE TRIED WRITING SOMETHING AND THOUGHT GOD DAMN IS THERE A SPECIFIC WORD FOR WHAT I’M USING TWO SENTENCES TO DESCRIBE AND JUST GETTING A BUNCH OF SHIT GOOGLE RESULTS
Are you an aspiring writer who would love to take some university courses on writing, but don’t have the money to spend on classes?
Well don’t fear. Here is a list of ten universities who are offering free online writing courses to anyone who wants to through a program called the OpenCourseWare Initiative.
Though on their own they won’t give you any official credits, the courses offered are quite in-depth, some taking up to sixteen weeks to complete and are comparable to the classes one would take in a professional writing degree program.
If you go to the link above, you’ll get more detailed links on these writing courses. Listed below are the universities offering the free writing courses:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (mit.edu)
- Utah State University (usu.edu)
- Open University (open.ac.uk)
- University of Utah (utah.edu)
- University of Massachusetts Boston (umb.edu)
- Purdue University (owl.english.purdue.edu)
- Steven Barnes’ UCLA Writing Course (lifewrite.com)
- News University (newsu.com)
- E-Zine University (ezineuniversity.com)
- Wikiversity (wikiversity.org)