5 Essential Exercises For Creating Characters

5 Essential Exercises For Creating Characters


We are posting a series of Essential Writing Exercises to help you tell your stories. This post includes five essential exercises for creating characters.

On our course, Writers Write ONLINE, we spend time creating characters, plotting, learning to write dialogue, learning how to pace, and learning how to show and not tell. We teach you about viewpoint, setting, description, and scenes, and much, much more. In my series, I am going to concentrate on a few of these areas.

To help us get through this time of social distancing and lockdown, I am going to post a series of Essential Writing Exercises to help you tell your stories. Last week, our exercises were about dialogue.

This week I have included five essential exercises for creating characters.

5 Essential Exercises For Creating Characters

When we teach Writers Write ONLINE, we find that writers don’t spend enough time creating three-dimensional characters for their stories. They also add too many characters instead of using one or two that do the same job in the story.

No matter which genre you choose, you should have these four characters for a story to work properly:

  1. Protagonist
  2. Antagonist
  3. Love Interest
  4. Confidant/Sidekick

They hold your plot together.

ABSOLUTE MUST-READ: The 4 Main Characters As Literary Devices

Exercise 1: Physio, Socio, Psycho

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”~Ernest Hemingway

Create three biographies for your main characters and they will seem like real people:

  1. Physiological: Include detailed physical descriptions.
  2. Sociological: Include class, wealth, education details.
  3. Psychological: This is usually a combination of how they are affected by the physiological and sociological aspects. Feelings, moods, rationalisations, and thought processes are included here. Include character traits and flaws. Decide on the ruling passions which motivate and focus your characters.

You can do this yourself, or you can use this questionnaire: The Only Character Questionnaire You Need

Exercise 2: Going Shopping

Write down a shopping list of 10 items. Send your protagonist shopping. They have just had an argument with their love interest. Write the scene as they walk through the aisles thinking about the fight as they do their shopping.

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five senses, dialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

This exercise will reveal your character’s attitude to both shopping and their love interest. It will really help you to show your character instead of telling us what they are like. P.S. Remember that love interests are perfect for sub-plots in stories.

Exercise 3: Pivot

Write one of the the pivotal incidents that happened in all four of these characters’ childhoods that shaped them into the people they’ve become. Write it from their viewpoint in first person present tense. (You can find some ideas fir negative experiences here.)

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five senses, dialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

This exercise will show your character came from somewhere. They have a backstory. You will probably never use these scenes in your story, but you will get to know your characters well.

Exercise 4: Getting Dressed

Write a scene where your antagonist gets dressed. Let them stand in front of their wardrobe considering their options. (Write the scene in second person present tense – if you’re brave enough to try! Start with ‘You stand there, stretching your toned arms, admiring your reflection in the mirror. You…)

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five senses, dialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

This exercise will ground your characters in the real world. They are not caricatures. They make choices. They may not care about their appearance or they may be vain. Show it in this exercise.

Exercise 5: 15 Questions

Use these 15 questions to find out more about the psychological motivations of your important characters. Answer them for each of the four main characters in your story.

Click here: 15 Questions Authors Should Ask Characters

This exercise will show the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that make them unique. The better you know your characters, the more memorable you can make them.

The Last Word

Use these five essential exercises for creating characters to make your stories come to life. The more real your characters seem, the more your readers will empathise with them.

Join us for Writers Write ONLINE for many more exercises like this (with feedback), and learn how to write a book.

TOP TIP: Use our Character Creation Kit to help you create great characters for your stories.

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this blogger’s writing, read:

  1. 5 Essential Exercises For Writing Dialogue
  2. How To Finish Writing Your Book
  3. Thriller Book Title Generator
  4. The Almost Moment Is The Secret To Successful Romance Writing
  5. What Is Direct And Indirect Characterisation? And Which One Should I Use?
  6. 5 Steps To Creativity In Writing
  7. How To Write Your Novel From The Middle Like James Scott Bell

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Rafal Reyzer

    These are great exercises to try out, thank you! I’ve never looked at character creation from this perspective. Perhaps I should try a couple of these during the stay-at-home period, and improve my skills. Take care!

    • Writers Write

      Thank you! Have fun. They are great exercises.

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