Character Exercises

Firstly, two points worth remembering:
1) You may have a great story idea, but without well-developed characters, the story may well seem dull and lifeless.
2) If you don't have a good idea for a story, start with great characters and you could find they write a story for you.

Creating a character outline

If you want to create a character from scratch, you could start by -
a) using the Character Generator to create a character outline.
b) thinking of someone from your past who still sticks out in your mind. Write down what made the person interesting.
c) turning an inanimate object into a character. Look around your home for possibilities. I once wrote down what my neglected cooker was thinking.

Developing your character

Once you have an outline, you need to develop your character into a well-rounded person, quirky habits and all. The following are exercises that have worked for me in the past.

1. Write ten 'factual' statements about your character, then ten lies, then ten odd/bizarre statements.

The 'lies' work as a stepping-stone to finding the odd habits that make your character unique.

Here's an example:


He's tall
He likes gardening
His mother is Irish
He works as a driver
He's generous
He's a good father
He's fun to go out partying with
He drinks too much
He lost his driving license
He has a dog


He's ugly
He bites his nails
He's a good listener
He has lots of friends
He's overweight
Appearance doesn't matter to him
He drives a BMW
He's having counselling
He never wanted children
He plays golf


His partner sings him lullabies at night
He rides a King and Queen Harley Davison
He collects seashells
He buys heather from gypsies
He lives in a caravan by the sea
He only has a bath when there's an R in the month
He wears shorts in winter
He washes his hair in beer
His dog sleeps in his bed and vice versa
He eats lug-worms

2. Write a back-story - very important

Your character should have a back-story, because this can help you decide how s/he might behave in present situations. Here are some questions to answer about your character:


Social class
How many siblings
Parents' relationship
Level of education
Special abilities

Present Circumstances:

Marital status
How many (if any) children
Political views
Fears/ phobias
What s/he gets upset about
What s/he gets excited about
What s/he really dislikes in other people
What s/he admires in others

3. Give your character a few contradictory traits.

No-one is ever that straightforward. For example, all these traits could easily exist in one person:

The benevolent one - here, have this. I don't normally give so you know it means a lot.
The thoughtful one - see, I remembered you said you liked this.
The attentive one - I want to spend some quality time with you - see how I'm noticing your presence and want to get close.
The humble one - I hear your criticism and I will take it on board.
The boastful one - look at me, I've achieved something, I want praise.
The bad-tempered one - I haven't eaten / haven't got any money / haven't had sex.
The self-pitying one - I wish I knew where I went wrong. Why aren't I achieving? Why doesn't anyone love me?

Click here for a list of character traits

- and if you're familiar with Zodiac star signs (even if you don't believe in them), assign one to your character. It will help to round him/her out. For example - a Virgo is said to be independent, well-ordered, stylish, a worrier and a perfectionist with a cool exterior!

4. If your character were an animal, which one would s/he be, and why?

Do the same exercise for:
a piece of music
a building.

5. In which ways would your character behave differently when interacting with -

and so on

6. Write a short poem in your character's voice

Good luck!