Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing Exercises: Character Building


Exercise, as we've all heard over and over, is good for the body.
But, what I sometimes forget is that exercise is good for the imagination, too.
Muscles get flimsy and weak without exercise, and so do writing skills.

I've decided to dedicate a day a week to writing exercises. It'll be my Wednesday Writercize.
Today we'll do character building. And maybe next week we'll work on our gluts.

The best exercise for starting any story is to get to know your main character (or any character in the story for that matter).

I like to use interviews to get to know my characters, so here are a few different ways employ the interview.

1. Author to Character. This is where you interview your character yourself. You lay out the questions and they answer (hopefully). This isn't always the best way, because sometimes as an author we like to ask straight forward questions that our characters don't want to answer. But here are some ideas:
-How old are you?
-What is your name?
-What are your parents' names?
-Where do you live?
-What is your biggest dream?
-Who is your best friend?
-Who is your worst enemy?
-What is your worst nightmare?

These are all good things to know about your character, but keep in mind--this is an exercise! Not all of this needs to go into your story. It's just good for you, as the author, to know in order to tell your character's story.

But what if you character won't answer your questions?
Then you've got to get someone who will.

2. Best Friend to Main Character. Say you've got a teenage girl character. She's got to have a best friend, right? What do they talk about at a sleepover? Maybe they're playing truth or dare. Maybe they're just chatting. Here's some questions:
-Don't you think, Ricky Grateby is so cute?
-What are you going to do for summer break?
-What are your plans for spring/christmas/thanksgiving break?
-Are you going to send a valentine to anybody?
-How did you do on that math test today?
-What's up with your mom/sister/dad?

Don't know the best friend that well? Or your character is more of a loner? There's always someone.

3. Therapist to Main Character. Maybe your character sees a counselor. Think of what the counselor would ask (could be a school/career counselor or an actual psychologist). And how would your character respond? Maybe they won't tell the whole truth or feel completely comfortable, but maybe you'll get some good body language out of it. Here are a few to get your mind going:
-Why did you decide to see me?
-What do you want out of life?
-What are your expectations for yourself?
-What do you expect from others?
-Where do you see yourself in five years?
-How do you feel today?
-Is there something you'd like to talk about?

But maybe your character isn't the type to see a shrink or even a school counselor.

4. Grandparent to Main Character. Maybe your character visits his grandmother once a month. What would she ask him? My ideas:
-How are you?--No, really how are you?
-Are you eating enough? What do you eat?
-Why don't you visit more often?
-How are you doing in school/work?
-What's your mother/father doing these days?
-Are you still playing the cello/tuba/zither?
-Would you like to play a game of canasta?
-Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?
-What's wrong? (maybe they only visit when something goes wrong)


The questions can be anything you want, really. The key is to not be afraid to ask any question. Figure out who your main character is closest to and write a scene where they have a question/answer or spill-the-beans sort of conversation. The point of the interviewing is that you want to get to know your character. You've got to know what makes them uncomfortable (so you can put that in the story somewhere), what they want the most (so you can make sure they don't get it), and what they'll lose in trying to get what they want.

Here's your exercise challenge for the day: interview one of your characters.
And if you're feeling nice, leave a comment below and tell me your ideas for getting to know who your characters are. :)

Write on!

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