Creating characters can be challenging. Writing characters is a powerful means of exercising your imagination, but characters must be well-developed for a story to make an impact.
This article will offer some character writing prompts and ideas to help you create multi-dimensional, believable characters your readers will love.
First, let’s take a quick look at the importance of well-developed characters.
The importance of well-developed characters
One of the most critical parts of a story is the life of the characters within it.
Well-developed characters help to immerse a reader in the story’s world – the reason they’re reading the story in the first place.
Good characters support story immersion because they are believable. They don’t have to be based on reality – it doesn’t matter if they have superpowers or magic or live on a cloud in the sky.
What does matter is that the character is multi-dimensional, that they offer something to the reader with which to resonate, and that they’re well-developed.
When creating complex characters, it is the author’s task to flesh out those characters with diligence and to make everything work – including a character’s biggest flaw – in the character’s world.
A poorly-developed character can irritate readers when such an emotional reaction is not the author’s objective.
So, where do you start if you’re trying to write engaging and believable characters?
Below we’ve included a list of imaginative character writing prompts to help you develop your characters even further and improve the overall quality of your story.
Character writing prompts to help you develop your characters
The creative writing prompts below are questions and scenarios you can present to your character. These character development exercises can significantly impact your relationship with your characters.
Whether you’ve known a character for a while or just created a new one, using a creative writing prompt helps you get to know them better.
The more you know your characters, the more accurately you can convey their depths and complexities to the reader, ultimately improving the overall reading experience.
How we present ourselves to the world can be as unique as our fingerprint. Many of us put on different hats in different circumstances.
In job interviews, we try to present an air of professionalism. On a first date, we want to appear interesting and exciting. When catching up with an old friend, we offer nostalgic sentiments and a summary of what’s been happening in our lives since we last saw them.
To explore your character’s minds and the way they choose to present themselves in different circumstances, write a short scene for the above examples – a job interview, a first date, or catching up with a friend.
Explore how your character changes in each circumstance. Develop elements of their approach that remain the same regardless of circumstance.
Ice-breakers are an excellent way for people to bond. There are also endless ice-breaker questions one can ask.
Below are some common ice-breakers you can present to your character.
It can help to imagine you’re meeting your character for the first time and want to get to know them. Imagine you two are having lunch or a coffee.
Alternatively, imagine a scene in which one character learns about another. Use the following ice-breakers to explore your character’s voice and the dialogue.
- What would you most like to be remembered for when your life is over?
- If you could have any job/career in the world, what would it be?
- What’s your earliest childhood memory?
- Do you have any pets?
- Do you live in the same country in which you were born? If not, when did you move? If yes, would you like to live anywhere else?
- Are you a morning person or a night owl?
- Do you like to exercise? What’s your favorite type of exercise?
- If you could be any animal, what would you choose?
2. Trace your character’s roots
Write a family tree for your character. Use a standard family tree template to trace your character’s roots.
Of course, a family tree can be large, creating even more characters, but you don’t have to elaborate on each family member.
Trace the character’s roots back three to four generations to give the character a rich origin. You may stumble across relatives influencing future scenes and stories in a state of creative flow.
If you like, travel back in time to an ancient ancestor of your character with similar qualities and explore how they relate to the ancient world around them. Which qualities are similar in both characters despite their cultural and time differences?
3. A life story monologue
Write about your character’s life so far by imagining them explaining their entire life story to a new person. Write their monologue that covers their childhood, teenage years, and twenties (and so on, depending on the character’s current age).
Whether or not you use this monologue in a story, this is an excellent exercise for exploring and developing your character’s voice.
If you like, use the other character to ask some clarifying questions and see how your character responds.
4. Save one thing
Write a scene in which your character’s house catches fire. The other people who live in the house have escaped and are safe.
Your character has time to save one thing from the burning house. What do they save?
Elaborate on the saved item by exploring why it’s important to the character.
Is this object sentimental? Was it a gift? Is it something the character needs for a specific purpose? What is that purpose?
Personal items and sentiments can reveal your character and help readers get inside that character’s head.
For example, perhaps they save a love letter from a former partner. Such an item allows you to explore that character’s past and meaningful memories.
5. Group discussion
Your main character is the topic of conversation among other characters in your story. Write a dialogue between two to three characters as they speak about them.
Try this exercise with different sentiments. Write one discussion in which other characters share their favorite qualities about your main character.
What do they like about them? What is special about their relationship to them? What positive qualities about your character do other characters all agree on?
Write another discussion using the same or different characters, but this time focus on the character’s negative qualities.
What qualities do other characters dislike? What happened to make one character dislike them? Do other characters disagree with one character’s point of view?
Ideas for new characters
The above prompts are effective methods of further developing your existing characters. However, sometimes you need to create a new character from scratch.
Perhaps you want to introduce a new character to an existing story, or you have an entirely new story in mind and need to find suitable characters.
Either way, the ideas and character prompts included below should help to inspire you.
1. Use a name dictionary
People often refer to name dictionaries when searching for a good baby name. However, you can also use this resource to find new characters.
Flick through a name dictionary and write down or save any names you find interesting. The names you find interesting will likely differ from those others find interesting.
The difference is that names can conjure up associations, memories, and images unique to our life experiences. You may stumble across the name Jacqueline and remember a Jack, Jackie, or Jacqueline in your life worthy of basing a character on.
This is a simple technique, but the mind is a powerful association machine, and even the most random names can conjure unexpected character inspiration.
2. Create a conflict first
Conflict is key to great story-telling. How a character reacts to said conflict and their approach to resolving it are incredibly revealing.
Conflict in a story offers characters a chance to show off their physical, intellectual, or emotional skills.
One effective means of creating a new character is to create a conflict first, then write characters who fit into it. For example, imagine a bully and his victim. How will the victim character manage to overcome their situation?
Create a character who, even though they are the victim of bullying or face some other conflict, possesses some means of overcoming their situation.
Perhaps the character has incredible superpowers, such as physical strength, but they know that if they unleash their power, they may kill the bully, so they contain it.
3. Animal qualities
Animals have represented human qualities for as long as civilization has existed. The term for attributing animals with human qualities is ‘anthropomorphism,’ a common literary device and an innate human tendency.
Snakes are typically deceitful but also represent death and rebirth. Bears are associated with power and strength.
Foxes are sly and cunning, butterflies represent change and growth, and horses represent elegance, strength, and freedom.
Consider animals and the human traits they represent to find ideas for new characters. Assess how different animals interact and how that dynamic may present itself between characters.
Bonus character development prompts
Your main character wakes up without their memory. Write about their day as they try to remember who they are.
Look at your original character arc, then change one major event. How does that change affect the character’s mind, point of view, and behavior?
How does your character react to criticism? Write a scene in which one character heavily criticizes another, and explore the latter’s response.
Think about interesting people in your own life. Is there anyone who will fit nicely into your story?
Your character has to say ‘no’ to someone important, such as a partner, friend, or boss. How do they feel about it?
Character creation and development is an exercise of great imagination. Hopefully, the ideas and prompts throughout the article have inspired you to elaborate on existing characters or come up with brand new characters altogether.
Just like real people, characters in stories are complex.
Each of us has a unique background and personality, and those differences make us human.
When it comes to writing great characters – characters that are believable and make an impact on the reader – it’s essential to respect their individuality.
Take adequate time and offer deep consideration for the characters you create. The process of fleshing out a character’s complexities can be hard work, but it’s also incredibly fun.