Character development is perhaps the most critical part of a novel or short story. Creating characters that readers can connect to and care about is key to the reader caring about the story at all. An audience reads a book because they care about the character and want to know what happens to him or her.
Character writing prompts can help you to create a character if you’re having trouble coming up with a person a reader might care about or connect with. Or perhaps you’ve got a character in mind, but you’re having trouble with character development and need some inspiration to get the character to come to life.
This article will give you ideas for character prompts that will help you start from the very beginning of character creation or help you develop an existing character.
8 Creative Ways to Find Character Writing Prompts:
1. Get into the Main Character’s Head
To really make the reader understand who the protagonist is in your work of fiction, you need to get inside the character’s head and describe what you see there. Everything from past trauma and experiences to current social, political, and economic situations affects a character’s life. The readers want to know what influences the personality of the protagonist, so you have to let them have a glimpse inside the character’s head.
Think about the character you’re building and ask yourself: How would the character react if they were put into a situation where they had to make a difficult choice? How would they react to happiness? How does the main character behave in the face of turmoil or conflict?
2. Ways to Write Character Strengths and Flaws
So how do you go about writing a character’s point of view on something? How do you let the reader know more about the inner workings of a character without coming right out and saying it in plain English?
If your main character is really great at solving difficult puzzles, and if their major flaw is that they can’t handle being touched by other characters or people in general, you can get that across to readers with scene exposing.
Scene exposing is when you write a scene and include an example of the character’s strength or weakness in a flashback form or anecdotal form so that the reader understands that the character has a talent that isn’t common or a setback or flaw that affects them in some way that will tie into the story or plot later.
3. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
While the dialogue is certainly important in a story, you should also describe things like body language and how two characters interact physically (Are they disgusted to the point that they move to opposite ends of the room when they have to be around each other? Are they so in love that they can’t keep their hands off each other? Are they so awkward and tense that they can’t make eye contact with each other?)
Write a scene to practice this skill of action and behavior writing. Simply write a scene in which the characters move and touch and interact physically with either each other or their surroundings but don’t speak. Don’t let the words convey the feelings. Make the actions and behavior convey the feelings. This sort of writing prompt is a challenge, but the learning experience is well worth it.
4. Your Character Should Be Close to Real Life
Unless you’re writing science fiction or horror that involves some mutation of a human being or a monster, your characters should be relatable to a point and realistic. Every character, even the hero, should have some sort of flaw or unattractive point. It’s tempting, especially if you’re writing your first novel, to make the protagonist a good person and the antagonist a bad person. As a prompt, and to practice character development, reverse the roles.
5. Role Reversal Character Prompts
Write a protagonist who isn’t a very pleasant person. Think about Elphaba in Wicked. She’s a protagonist who changes drastically from the beginning of the book. Innocent and somewhat disadvantaged as a child, she hopes to make friends and fit in. However, she can’t seem to escape the curse of standing out because she looks different.
She has bright green skin that everyone notices and the way other characters in the book treat her starts to warp her sense of decency and kindness. She experiences love, happiness in very small doses, and she is incredibly intelligent. She even has great friends. However, she’s about as rotten as a character can be, especially for a protagonist. Creating characters who don’t fit the mold of protagonist and antagonist is fun, but it can be challenging.
Now make your antagonist a wonderful character. Maybe he spends each Friday night volunteering at a homeless shelter, and then Saturday mornings are spent planning murders. This character has a heart of gold, but he’s also got a violent streak and a mean streak, and he only kills people he feels deserve it.
Think of Love Quinn-Goldberg in You. She’s the wife of the protagonist, Joe, and she’s a ruthless murderer. She kills anyone who threatens her marriage, family, or freedom. While she is the antagonist in the story, she’s also a struggling mother who tries her best to raise her son because she loves him very much. She’s also willing to do anything for her husband, including killing anyone who threatens his happiness or their relationship.
6. Look at Your Own Personality
What are the things that make you an interesting character? This is one of those prompts that are a bit more challenging because it means you must engage in some self-reflection. As a writer, have you ever taken the time to think about yourself as a character? Do you often put some of yourself into your characters, or do you write characters who are a lot different than you? What is it about you that makes you the character that you are?
When writing characters in a story, consider inserting yourself. Change the name, gender, age, whatever you want, but give them your essence. When a conflict confronts a character, and you’re not sure how to write an appropriate reaction to it, ask yourself what you would do. If you’ve given the character bits and pieces of your own essence, then their behavior and feelings in the face of conflict should mimic or mirror your own.
7. Stop Thinking
If you’re still having trouble with character development, even after you’ve molded a character after yourself, stop thinking. Don’t think in terms of plot, dialogue, or how to get the best drama in your stories. Instead, slow down, empty your mind, and write the scene as if it were a part of your life.
Be honest with yourself and have your character do what you would do, say what you would say, and think what you would think. If you put too much thought into it, you may start lying to yourself. If you lose sight of yourself, you lose sight of the character.
8. Consider a Backstory
Writers don’t often give the entire backstory for characters in creative fiction. They focus on the characters’ current lives and may pause here and there to explore the origin of a character’s trauma or defining moment in their lives. Maybe the character is so driven to succeed because they had to work hard their entire life, having grown up in poverty, never even making it near the middle class.
What is the inner truth of the characters you have created? Do they behave the way they do because they’re trying to escape something? Are they trying to forget something? Come up with a past for these players you’ve invented, and let it inspire you. Shape the current characters from the rocky or privileged places you have decided they come from.
Traumatic Backstory Ideas
While traumatic experiences are difficult to rehash in real life, they often spice up stories in the literary world, giving justice to each character’s vulnerability or toughness. Here are some traumatic backstory ideas which you can incorporate into your writing:
- A character was who is constantly bullied because of their physical appearance during school years.
- A character was pressured to live up to people’s expectations because he came from an elite family.
- A character was cheated on by his partner, leaving him with their two children.
- A character was betrayed by her most-trusted friend.
- A character was consistently ranked second best.
- A character was abandoned by her parents when she was still a baby.
- A character who excelled in sports was not appreciated by her academician parents.
- A character was always neglected by his parents.
- A character from an impoverished family was always discriminated against by wealthy relatives.
- A character’s family was murdered; he was the only survivor.
- A character was abused by an elder relative.
- A character witnessed the near-death experience of a loved one being tortured.
- A character killed someone because of self-defense but was sentenced to life imprisonment.
- A character did not get the recognition he deserved because another character bribed the panelists.
Character Development Exercises
Character development is a laborious process, yet it is a worthwhile exercise and essential to the triumph of a plot. Below are character development exercises that you can do to help you in creating a human-like fictional character:
- Visualize and sketch your character’s appearance, the way they look, move and dress up.
- Complete character profiling, so you can easily connect the characters once they meet in the events of your story.
- List down the character’s biographical information. You may also immerse your character in an interview-like dialogue.
- Imagine your character at all their life milestones. They would act differently in different phases of their life as they mature mentally and emotionally.
- Link a character with their favorite genre of songs, books, or movies. Their preferences would help in developing their personality.
- Write using the eyes of your character. It will let you feel how it feels to be in their shoes.
- Assume your character is in a casual event or on an ordinary routine; how would they behave?
- Think of unique people currently in your life. What makes them stand out from everyone else? Their personalities can be the patterns for the characters’ personalities in your story.
- Write a dialogue where other characters are talking about the protagonist positively or negatively.
- Place the character in a life-threatening event or a life-changing moment; how would they respond?
- Create a scene showing your character’s transformation or transition.
- Pick your favorite story, and imagine your character interacting with the characters of that story.
Character Development Examples
Character development is essential within the story writing process. Over time, each major character is expected to go on a journey and transform into an individual that is either loved or loathed. Below we have provided examples of character development as exemplified by some of these famous literary characters:
- Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings. Merry and Pippin begin as ordinary hobbits who love to eat and drink. However, as the story progresses and their characters develop, Pippin saves Faramir, and Merry fights against the Witch-king. When they eventually go back to the Shire, they discover that Saruman has taken control of their home and they lead a small army of hobbits to win back their territory. If it weren’t for the character development of these two average hobbits, they would be enslaved with the other hobbits.
- Mo in Inkheart Trilogy. Mo is a loving father and husband and is characterized as a book lover with a hidden power. Because of his ability, he is destined to become a hero, later called Bluejay. He originally hesitates to accept this responsibility because he wants to avoid danger. However, through his character development, he gradually loosens his resistance and agrees with the duties bestowed on him. He ultimately fights against Adderhead to protect the people.
- Pip in Great Expectations. Pip is taken care of by his sister and her husband. He meets Miss Havisham and Estella, who influence him to begin dreaming about being upper-class and well-educated. Due to this, Pip slowly turns away from those who love him and hurts them. Later in the story, he regrets what did and realizes that economic status is not everything. His character development allows him see what he has done wrong to those he loves and change for the better.