Make Your Characters POP
It’s not hard to understand why writers do so much work on their characters. Target readers and audiences value good characterisation very highly. Not working hard on yours can really cost you in the long run.
However, lots of writers over-complicate this process and tie themselves up in knots. This is why I recommend these three very simple but high-yield writing exercises for yours. Ready? Then let’s go …
Exercise 1: Traditional
These steps can help you create a well-rounded and believable character. By taking the time to flesh out your characters, you’ll be able to create a more engaging and compelling story.
Start by choosing a character you want to develop. It can be for a screenplay, novel, short story or any other type of writing.
2) Physical characteristics
Now write down the character’s physical attributes, including height, weight, hair and eye colour, body shape, etc.
3) Personality traits
Next, think about the character’s personality traits. What kind of person are they? Are they outgoing or introverted? Kind or cruel? Write down as many traits as you can think of.
Now consider the character’s background. What was their childhood like? Did they have a happy or traumatic upbringing? What are their family dynamics like? This will give insight into their behaviour and motivations.
5) Internal conflicts
Identify the character’s internal conflicts. What fears, desires, or flaws do they have? What motivates them to act? How do they react to certain situations?
Finally, write a brief dialogue between your character and another character. This will give you an idea of how they speak and interact with others.
PARTICULARLY GOOD FOR: Writers who feel overwhelmed by the possibilities of characterisation or just writing generally.
WHY: This step-by-step exercise helps writers work out what they need, without having to try too hard. This writing malarkey is supposed to be fun, after all!
Exercise 2: Influences
This exercise can help you explore new character archetypes and build complex, layered characters that readers will want to read or watch.
1) Look at what’s gone before
Choose one of your favourite characters from literature, TV or film. Here’s some inspiration …
- Top 10 ‘Unlikeable’ Female Leads From Movies & TV
- Top 7 Nice Guys From Comedy TV & Movies
- Top 10 Badass Female Antiheroes You Need To Know
- What Writers Can Learn From 5 Unusual Male Characters
- 10 Awesome Young Female Leads Recommended By My 11 Year Old Kid
2) Now, pick 10 traits
Write down 10 traits or characteristics that make your favourite stand out to you. For example: courageous, witty, determined, pragmatic, outrageous, evil, etc.
3) Then create a new character
Now, create a new character and give them only three of those traits you just listed.
4) Write a scene
Feature the original character opposite your character, ensuring both interact with each other. The goal is to create distinct personalities and voices for each character.
5) Reflect on the scene
Ask yourself how you can further develop your new character. Make sure they are unique and separate from the original character. Limiting the number of traits will challenge you to think creatively and find new ways to bring your characters to life.
PARTICULARLY GOOD FOR: Ensuring we bring a new character to life, while also tapping into popular characters audiences love.
WHY: It’s very common for writers to believe their character is ‘unique’, when the reality is it’s only unique to THEM. There’s so many characters in published and produced content. This means it’s very easy to rehash characters we’ve seen lots of times before by accident. This exercise allows writers to come up with a completely new character that shares the attributes audiences love, without doing ‘the same-old, same-old’.
Exercise 3: Interview With A Character
This exercise can help you get to know your characters better, making them more fully realised and three-dimensional. It’s a great way to breathe life into your characters and make them feel like real people.
1) Choose a character you want to develop
It could be a main character in your story or a side character that you want to flesh out.
2) Imagine you are a journalist
You are conducting an interview with this character. Think about what questions you would ask them about their life, personality, and experiences.
3) Write down your questions …
… then answer them from the perspective of your character. This can be done in dialogue form or in prose.
4) Get into the character’s head
As you write, try to get into your character’s head and really think about how they would answer each question. What are their thoughts, feelings, and motivations? (For more on character motivation, CLICK HERE).
5) Keep going!
Carry on with questioning until you feel like you have a good sense of who your character is. You may discover new things about them that you hadn’t thought of before.
6) Read & Reflect
Once you’re finished, read back through your interview and use the information you’ve gathered to inform your writing. Use what you’ve learned to give your character depth and complexity, and to make them more believable and relatable to readers.
PARTICULARLY GOOD FOR: Diverse (aka marginalised) characters, such as – but not limited to – female leads, or characters from the BIPOC, LGBTQ or disabled communities.
WHY: It forces the writer to confront what they don’t know about a character’s background. This is because they will discover in this interview they are repeating themselves, or using toxic or stale tropes or ideas to describe them or their history. (Just make sure you RESEARCH these!).
Want even MORE script reading secrets?
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If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you.
The workshop is on Zoom with video replay for a year, so you can take it on your own schedule if you prefer. You won’t lose out on the interactive element with me because you can send me your questions or homework at any point in the 12 months.
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