Most authors agree that fiction is primarily driven by characters. Experienced authors will talk about characters who take over the story, who have their own separate and independent consciousnesses. Outlines and plans for plot go out the window as characters insist on moving the story in a direction of their own design.
Because characters are central to most stories and because their primary function is to explore the human condition, it’s essential for characters to be believable. In other words, characters may not be real, but they most certainly should feel real.
It’s not easy to write believable and realistic characters. People (and therefore characters) are highly complex and layered, full of contradictions and flaws. Because writing imposes space-time limitations, we can never craft a character that is as complicated as a real person, but we can certainly try.
Today’s creative writing prompts encourage you to explore the characters in your writing. By working outside of your project on a series of exercises that force you to explore and engage with your characters, you will get to know them better. You’ll also get to use techniques for creating characters that have depth and dimension.
Character Writing Prompts
These character writing prompts are grouped into categories. You can mix and match the prompts according to which ones are most appealing to you, or choose the ones you think will help resolve character problems that you’re struggling with.
Feel free to let these character writing prompts inspire new prompts — in other words, you don’t have to write exactly what the prompt says. One set of prompts deals with character fears and flaws. These might inspire you to write about your character’s strengths and virtues.
Be creative, have fun, and keep writing!
Background and Family
- Unearth your character’s roots. What is the character’s ancestry or cultural background? How does ancestry shape your character? Is the character at odds with family or cultural traditions?
- Write a series of short paragraphical biographies of each of the character’s closest family members: spouse, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, close friends, etc.
- Write a monologue in which your character summarizes his or her life story; be sure to write it in the character’s voice.
Motivations and Goals
- What motivates your character? Money? Love? Truth? Power? Justice?
- What does your character want more than anything else in the world? What are they searching for?
- What other characters or events are interfering with your character’s goals? What obstacles are in the way?
Flaws and Fears
- What is your character’s single greatest fear? Why is your character afraid of this? How did your character acquire their fears?
- What are your character’s flaws and weaknesses?
- How does the character’s fears and flaws prevent them from reaching their goals?
- What does your character look like? Make a list and include the following: hair, eyes, height, weight, build, etc.
- Now choose one aspect of the character’s appearance, a detail (bitten nails, frizzy hair, a scar) and elaborate on it.
- Write a short scene in which your character is looking in the mirror or write a short scene in which another character first sees your character.
- How does your character feel on the inside? What kind of person is your character and what does the character’s internal landscape look like?
- We don’t always present ourselves to others in a way that accurately reflects how we feel inside. We might be shy or insecure but come across as stuck-up and aloof. How do others perceive your character?
- Write a scene with dialogue that reveals your character’s external and internal personalities. Good settings for this dialogue would be an interview, an appointment with a therapist, or a conversation with a romantic interest or close friend. Write the scene in third-person omniscient so you can get inside your character’s head as well as the other character’s head; this will allow you explore how your character feels and how he or she is perceived.
If you tackle these creative writing prompts, come back and tell us how they worked for you. What did you write? Did you learn anything new about your character or how to write about your character? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Great ideas! Answering all these questions I really think can make the difference between a round, motivated character and a flat one. Thanks for your ideas 🙂
Thanks, Sarah. Good luck to you!
(Meant to comment yesterday when I stumbled on this!) Great exercises. Helped me to elaborate more on another character I’m beginning to explore for another novel. I’m in the middle of my first novel now! Thanks for this mini-workshop!
Thanks, Tonya! My goal is to come up with exercises and prompts that help writers learn new concepts and techniques, gain experience through practice, solve problems within their own writing projects, and inspire new ideas. I’m thrilled that these prompts helped you solve a particular problem. Your comment totally made my day!
Great suggestions! Dissection or hotseating your character in many different ways is an excellent way of finding out who this person is who’s appeared in your story. I find myself talking through possible conversations as I walk, helping me round out who they are – even if all that information doesn’t end up in the story.
I always imagine character conversations when I’m trying to fall asleep. Sometimes they keep me up all night!
Excellent tips about creating believable characters. I think you did a great job here. The more authors can delve into their character’s background, the better writer they will be and it all gets down to how much the reader likes the book.
In most cases, I think it’s the characters that make stories so compelling. That’s why it’s so important to know your characters well.
This is amazing! Thanks for putting it together! I need writing prompts like this for class. A marketing class at a Polytechnic in Canada, these will be perfect.
Keep up the great work!
You’re welcome! I’m glad you found these helpful.
Thank you Mellissa for this. It is extremely helpful. I am going to relook at the characters I’ve created based on this.