Getting Into Character: Fiction Writing Exercises

character fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for developing characters.

Writers are not actors, but sometimes we need to get into character.

To truly understand the nature of a character, a writer must step into that character’s shoes. You can use character sketches and descriptions while you’re creating a character, but the character will remain two dimensional until you can get into the character’s head and understand what makes him or her tick.

It’s harder than it sounds. Your first impulse might be to act like a puppet master, pulling the character’s strings and controlling every action and line of dialogue. But what you really need to do is scoot over and get in the passenger’s seat. Let your character do the driving and ride along as an observer. And that’s exactly what today’s fiction writing exercises will help you do.

Tips for Getting Into Character


Many artists and creative people talk about entering “the zone.” This is a state of mind in which you’re running on automatic pilot. Your right (creative) brain is fully engaged and your left (logical) brain is snoozing with one eye open. It is in this state that people often get lost in an activity, lose track of time, and produce some of their best creative work.

When you’re getting into character, it’s best to be in the zone. Tackle these fiction writing exercises when you’re calm and relaxed and willing to let your imagination override your logical thinking.

Fiction Writing Exercises for Getting Into Character

Exercise #1: Chat

Launch your word processing software and start a conversation with your character. Most of us have engaged in online chat or text messaging. This is the same idea. If chat is not a comfortable medium for you, then try composing emails back and forth between you and your character.

Before you start, you might want to come up with a list of questions to ask your character. Also, this is a great exercise to use when you get stuck in a story that doesn’t want to move forward. Simply chat with your character to try and find out what’s holding him or her back from taking the next step.

Your chat might look something like this:

WRITER: You’re just sitting there, doing nothing. What’s your problem?

CHARACTER: I don’t know what to do.

WRITER: What are your options?

Exercise #2: Stand-in Situation

Take your character out of the story you’re writing and put the character in a difficult situation. Think of riveting scenes from books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen or use scenes from your own life.

A few quick ideas for scenes that will reveal how your character handles challenges:

  • Your character is standing on the corner trying to hail a taxi when there’s a sudden distraction. This could be an accident in the street, a beautiful man or woman walking by, or an emergency phone call from a desperate friend or family member. Does your character hop in the cab or stop to help? Does it depend on where the cab is going?
  • Your character’s arch-enemy is in grave peril and the only person around who can save him is your character. Does your character let the enemy die or save his life?
  • Your character has been grossly betrayed by a close friend or family member. Does your character forgive, seek revenge, or walk away?

Notice that all these scenarios test the character’s integrity. This is a great way to get a handle on what kinds of choices your character makes. Remember: people are not perfect and characters needn’t be either. The most interesting characters are easy to relate to, and that means they are flawed in some way.

Exercise #3: Monologue

Monologues are a great way to get inside your character’s head, especially if the story you’re writing will be in third person. This is your chance to let your character’s voice be heard.

Write a piece in first person from your character’s perspective. Choose a general theme for the monologue and start writing in the character’s voice. Some ideas for themes:

  • The character is relating a significant event from his or her past: the loss of a loved one, a major life transition, or one of those everyday moments that change everything or stay with you forever.
  • The character is faced with a serious challenge or decision and is discussing the options and what the effects of either choice might be.
  • The character is in the middle of an emotional crisis and is overcome by grief, rage, envy, or some other intense feelings.

In a monologue, you can include action cues, but try to write them into the dialogue. For instance, if the character starts crying, make that evident through the narrative. If you’re feeling really brave (or if you’re an actor at heart), try recording yourself reading and acting out the monologue. That will add another dimension and allow your character’s speech, intonation, and inflection to come through.

How to Use These Exercises

Try to pinpoint any areas where you’ve stepped in and taken over. Maybe your character said something that you normally or frequently say. Or perhaps the character did something that is out of character. You can edit and revise until you feel your piece has truly captured your character’s behavior and personality.

Later, when you’re working on your story, you can revisit these fiction writing exercises to see if there are any clues about your character that you want to use. You may also use these exercises as you’re writing a story to help you get a better grasp on your characters.

As always, the most important thing when working through creative writing exercises is to have fun, and keep writing.

If you have any fiction writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments or send them in as a guest post.

Are you looking for more fiction writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Comments

21 Responses to “Getting Into Character: Fiction Writing Exercises”

  1. Very resourceful stuff: 1,2,3 – easy to remember and practice too.
    Best non-fiction books i have read were written using this style. To mention a few – “Raving Fans…” about customer service and “The Dream Manager” about managing people. Your prescriptive guidelines are helpful to me.

    #1 – Chat
    #2 – Stand in situation
    #3 – Monologue

    Good stuff, stumbled.

    Alik Levin | PracticeThis.coms last blog post..Check Point For Aspiring Blogger

  2. Martin - Writing Prompts says:

    I like your idea of doing a chat with your character. Instant messaging is so common these days and it sounds like a great way to get in touch with your characters.

    All of these tips are great as once you are in your character’s mindset, most of the writing comes out naturally as you just do what the character would do.

  3. These are good tips. I’ve used #2 and #3 before, but never used the chat idea. Might be worth a try.

    Gabriel Gadflys last blog post..Kisses For Nemo

  4. J.D. Meier says:

    Great prescriptive guidance.

    I really like the fact you provided specific techniques (chat, stand-in, and monologue) to turn insight into action.

    I think using proven techniques really improves effectiveness. In this case, I think the key to the techniques is they help you get into the right mindset. Mindset and state make all the difference in creative works.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Effectiveness Over Universal Expert

    • Also, each writer has to find which techniques work best for him or her. Some people might not click with the chat but the monologue exercise will prove to be quite effective. There’s a great benefit in simply being willing to try new and different things.

  5. Evelyn says:

    I like the idea of sending emails back and forth to each other (me and my character who is dangling awaiting dialogue or activity). I tried the character’s diary/journal idea. It worked for a while but it dried up rather quickly. I like the email idea because you can walk away from it and come back to is fresh like you (or they) just received that email. :)

    • The journal or diary technique is another good one, but I view that as a long-term exercise – a good thing to use if you’re writing a novel. Then, you can journal from your character’s perspective regularly and over a longer period of time. Yes, wouldn’t it be fun to receive emails from your characters?

  6. Kate says:

    These are great tips Melissa! I haven’t tried them before but looks like it’ll be fun. Acting out the monologue yourself sounds like something out of a drama class. Perhaps trying to the character yourself might seem like treading into dangerous territory but always a unique worthwhile experience to try.

    • Funny you mention drama class because that’s exactly what I was envisioning when I wrote the monologue exercise. It could be fun or intimidating, perhaps dangerous (don’t try this at home folks!).

  7. Iain Broome says:

    These are all great ideas and are particularly useful, I reckon, when you’re just starting out on a story/script and still have a lot of gaps to fill. Lovely stuff.

    Iain Broomes last blog post..Writing goals 2: Short-term targets, long-term goals

  8. t.sterling says:

    I’m definitely taking note with the chat option not only to get into character, but it will definitely help when I’m writing dialogue. I hear or say so much good stuff, I’m never able to write or record it all… but with this exercise I might create better material than what I forgot to write down.

    t.sterlings last blog post..fripodding and watching: the watchmen experience-reviews and stuff

    • I like the chat option too and you’re right – it’s great for dialogue. It will show you how your character speaks. You can do recordings as well as write out the chats.

  9. Kelvin Kao says:

    As someone that actually plays with puppets, I can tell you that the puppet doesn’t always do what you want it to do. I might pull a string to get it to do something, but the way the puppet is built (weight distribution, how joints are strung together, etc.) dictates the range of motion. I can try to get it to do something to an extend, but it also sort of has a mind of its own that it won’t necessarily follow your lead.

    I think writing a character is like that too. There are certain things that might be so out of character that they wouldn’t make sense for the character to do. In that situation, you got to listen to the characters and explore how they might think or react to things, instead of forcing them to do certain things.

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