Character is a key element of prose writing, whichever form – short story, play, novel – that might take. Characters are often at the heart of a story. They drive it forward. For readers, they are often the reason we keep reading something. We want to find out more about a character’s motivations or thoughts. We want to see what happens to them as the plot progresses.
If a character is very well-written and vividly created, we can often attach a great deal of sentiment to them – take the shock and dismay with which many readers respond to the deaths of key characters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for example. Or the way in which, almost a hundred years after its publication, the eponymous protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby continues to elicit frenzied discussion and debate. More recently, novels such as Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo have allowed people to see their own under-represented experiences reflected in Booker Prize-winning prose.
Character, then, is something that needs to be done well. This blog post will aim to help you in starting to think about and develop characters for your writing, by introducing a couple of exercises that could be beneficial.
- Make character profiles. You can create this in multiple ways. For example, you could create a character mindmap like the one I showed in the last blog post:
Alternatively, you could sketch out a drawing of what you want your character to look like, and next to the drawing have a series of headings based upon the ones above (eg. Backstory, beliefs etc). That way you are able to visually represent your character while also getting the chance to delve into the more internal aspects of them. Character profiles can be a really useful way to focus your mind and also can serve as a handy point of reference as you work through their story. They can also be created for all characters, major or minor.
2. Another really useful exercise to do – perhaps when you have done the above and have started writing your story/script – is to have an interview with your character. Prepare a series of questions. They can range from the relatively mundane – “what’s your favourite food?” to the more significant – “how do we solve climate change?” “if you could go back and change x event in your life, would you go back and do it? And how?”
You task is to write answers to these questions in the voice of your character. Think not only about the content of their answers, but also how they would answer them. Would they be hesitant? Are there certain phrases they might use a lot? Are there some questions they would refuse to answer, or avoid giving an answer to? These are all things you can consider.
This is a really valuable exercise because it allows you to build up a bank of information about your character. It also lets spontaneous creation happen – as you write you will find that your character gives answers you did not expect them to, that pieces of information you did not know about them comes to light.
I hope these exercises prove useful when it comes to creating characters for your writing. Let me know how you get on, and good luck.
Ned Vessey, Blog Co-Ordinator
Read this post on the Spellbinder Medium page here.