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47 Character Development Prompts To Flesh Out Your Book Characters

What kind of person is your main character? 

Maybe you’ve started to hear their voice in your head, but they just haven’t been very talkative. 

What can you do to make your character reveal their full self, quirks and all? 

The best way to get to know the people you’ve created is to use character development writing prompts.

We’ve created a list of 47 to put each of your key characters to the test.

Choose your own adventures for them. And see what your characters reveal about themselves. 

Actions speak louder than words. But you’ll need both. 

Key Benefits of Character Development Exercises

Identity or personality prompts, relationship prompts, reaction prompts, ethics and morality prompts, backstory prompts.

The more writing prompts you use in the development of your characters, the more of the following benefits you’ll enjoy:

  • Deeper awareness of the process of creating complex and believable characters
  • Experience writing from the character’s point of view (voice journal entries)
  • Experience writing dialogue (or taking dictation for the voices in your head)
  • Greater ease in making each character stand out as unique and three-dimensional.
  • Well-drawn, interesting characters , which help in the creation of unique plots. 

The more you know about these people in your story, the more real they become to you. 

Related: 16 Best Self-Publishing Companies For Your Writing Business

Then comes the challenge of helping your reader see them through dialogue and essential details.

The more character development prompts you use, though, the more experience you’ll have doing exactly that. 

47 Character Development Prompts 

Try any of the character scenarios below to see what each of your key characters is made of. Put them in situations that reveal their character and what they believe about themselves — as well as what they think of other characters in your story. 

We’ve divided these into groups to make it easier for you to focus on the areas that are the foggiest right now. Dive in and choose a prompt for today’s freewriting exercise . 

1. If your character has a superpower , what is it and how did they discover it? Is it something they’re proud of or would they like to exchange it for someone else’s?

2. What is your character’s biggest flaw ? Write about how they came to terms with it (if they have) or how they react when someone calls them out for it. 

3. Write a scene exposing your character’s fatal flaw and include another character from your story. Write from either character’s point of view. 

4. Write a scene revealing a mental health challenge for your character. Another character recognizes that challenge and offers help. 

5. Your character is trying to decide what to eat on a Friday night alone at their place. Write a voice journal entry about their thought process, what they eat, and why. 

6. Have three of your characters play “ Truth or Dare .” What do they learn about each other? And what character is more likely to choose “Dare” over “Truth”?

7. If your character has decided romantic or sexual love is not for them, write about what led them to identify as asexual or aromantic . How have others reacted? 

8. Has your character discovered an attraction they’ve been taught they shouldn’t have? Write about how has that affected their beliefs and sense of identity?

9. Does your character identify with the gender assigned to them at birth? If not, write about how they came to identify as a trans person and who supported them. 

10. Write a scene where your character reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity to someone who doesn’t respond well to the news. 

11. Have your character take the 16Personalities test to identify their Myers-Briggs type. Write a voice journal entry about their reaction to the results. 

12. Get your character alone with a parental figure that shaped their response to authority. Is your character generally obedient or more likely to question or rebel?

13. Get your character alone with someone they’re attracted to , whether they’ve acknowledged that attraction or not. Let them find out the attraction isn’t mutual. 

14. Get your character alone with someone who hurt them and who now needs their help. Write a scene or dialogue exchange hinting at the hurt caused by the other.

15. Write a scene where your character cooks a meal for someone else in your story. Show how it turns out and what they talk about while they eat (or drink). 

16. Write a scene where one of your character’s siblings comes to visit them. What do they talk about? What have they been through together? 

17. Get your character talking about their first love , who it was and whether the attraction was mutual. Was it an epic love or just a crush? How did it end?

18. Does your character have a mentor , coach,  or guide? Write a scene where they clash with this mentor or take issue with advice or directions they’ve been given. 

19. Has your character ever lost a friend ? Write a scene leading up to that loss and then show how your character reacts. 

20. Write a scene that shows what kind of friend your character is when someone they care about is going through a bad break-up. 

21. How does your character get along with kids ? Write a scene where someone talks to your character about whether they want kids of their own and why or why not.

22. Write a scene describing an encounter between your character and someone who has an unrequited crush on them — and who writes poetry. 

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23. Write a scene where someone teases your character and then ridicules them for acting “ triggered .” What goes through your character’s head and what do they say?

24. Write a scene showing how your character would respond to a bully — e.g., a belligerent customer harassing an employee or a parent verbally abusing a child. 

25. Write a scene showing how your character would react upon learning that the attraction between them and another character is mutual. 

26. Write a scene showing how your character would respond to the death or serious injury of someone they cared about. What would they reveal about themselves?

27. Write about the moment your character learns what it will cost to get the thing they want most. How do they react? What do they say and do?

28. How would your character react to someone telling them, “ You’re not like other women/men ”? Write a scene or dialogue exchange showing their reaction. 

29. Think of a strong reaction you’ve had that surprised or confused others. Write a scene where one of your characters has a similar reaction to something. 

30. Write a scene where your character reacts to a religious symbol from their past. What does religion mean to them, now, and what do they believe about God?

31. How would your character react if they met their clone — who happens to be both successful and (apparently) evil? Write a scene describing the encounter. 

32. Does your character meet someone who helps them make a better decision about something? Write a scene or dialogue for a pivotal moment involving both. 

33. Does your character meet someone who manipulates them into doing something harmful? What do they do, and how does it affect them and other characters? 

34. What choice would your character make if presented with the trolley problem ? Write a voice journal entry explaining their decision. 

35. Does your character have a redemption arc ? Write a scene where you reveal your character’s turning point or an experience that changes them for the better. 

36. What could push your character over the edge ? Write a scene where this happens? What does your character do or say as a result? What do they lose?

37. Write a scene where your character meets a panhandler asking for money. Do they give the man anything? Use details and dialogue to reveal why or why not. 

38. Your character’s boss has offered them a significant promotion if they can get another employee to quit. Write about your character’s thought process. 

39. Your character has an unpleasant encounter with their rich boss, who leaves their loaded wallet behind. Write a scene showing what your character does and why.

40. Write about a traumatic experience in this character’s life and how it continues to affect them. Whom did it involve, and how have those relationships changed? 

41. Is your character’s world heteronormative ? Write about how your character and others respond to non-hetero romantic relationships. 

42. How has your character dealt with grief in the past? Write a scene where someone confronts them on this or encourages them to talk about it. 

43. Your character isn’t convinced they’re a good person . Write a scene or conversation that explains why. Do they remember ever thinking they were good?

44. Does your character have a secret about their past? Write a scene where this secret comes out. How do they and the other characters react? 

45. Have your character’s beliefs changed significantly since adolescence? Write a voice journal entry about those beliefs and why they changed. 

46. As a child, your character wandered away from their parents, who didn’t notice their absence until a stranger brought them back. Write about what happened. 

47. Write about a mistake your character made that he still hasn’t forgiven himself for. Use a voice journal entry to explain why. 

How will you use these character development prompts?

Now that you have 47 character development writing prompts , which one are you most eager to start with? Which one has already started the movie projector in your head? 

Once you know each character to their core, you can do as Terry Pratchett suggests: “Wind them up, put them down, and simply write down what they do, say, and think.” 

You’ll be doing that for these prompts . But they’ll also help you do it better. 

Meanwhile, you’ll also get better at creating characters your readers will fall in love with and write fanfiction for. 

Get your ship names ready, just in case.

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101 Creative Character Arc Prompts

creative writing ideas for character

Need some inspirational help in finding a new and exciting way to develop characters? Thankfully, character arcs aren't as difficult to develop as you might think. You just need a place to start.

A loser becomes a winner. A king becomes a pauper. The skeptic becomes a believer. Often, the best arcs start with a simple question or compelling traits that become the antithesis of the conflict your character is facing.

With that in mind, here are 101 character prompts that writers can test out on their characters — and their story concepts— to find compelling character arcs that can be explored within their stories.

Read More: Acceptance, Revelation, Contentment: Exploring Your Character's Inner Arc

101 Character Arc Prompts

1. What is your character's biggest fear?

2. What is your character's biggest regret?

3. What haunts your character when they stare off into nothing?

4. What, if anything, would your character kill for?

5. What is the most traumatic event from their childhood?

6. What is their most dangerous vice?

7. What is the one obstacle between where they are and what they want most in life?

8. Is your character religious?

9. Is your character anti-religion?

10. Who does your character love?

11. Who is their biggest influence?

12. Who in their lives is a bad influence?

13. What does your character see when they look at themselves in a mirror?

14. Why is the character in their ordinary world  at the beginning of the story?

15. Why is your character the one dealing with the main conflict of the story?

16. How does the main conflict most conflict with the main character?

17. Is your character rich or poor?

18. Are they an optimist or pessimist?

19. Does your character have a handicap?

20. Do they have mental health issues?

101 Character Arc Prompts

Joker (2019)

21. What triggers their mental health issues?

22. Who did they hurt in their past?

23. Who hurt them in their past?

24. What does your character strive for most in their life?

25. What makes them laugh?

26. What makes them cry?

27. What makes them lose their temper?

28. What is the most selfish thing your character has done?

29. What is the most unselfish thing they've done for someone else?

30. Does your character have a lot of friends? If not, why not?

31. What is your character's favorite holiday? Why?

32. What is their least favorite holiday? Why?

33. What is your character's biggest flaw?

34. What is their biggest weakness?

35. What causes anxiety in your character?

36. What triggers them? Why?

37. Who is your character's biggest enemy?

38. Who is your character's best friend? Why?

39. Does your character believe in love at first sight?

40. Have they been in love at all?

101 Character Arc Prompts

The Woman King (2022)

41. What are their turn-ons?

42. What are their turn-offs?

43. What gender are your characters?

44. What race is your character?

45. What is your character's sexual orientation?

46. What is the greatest thing your character has done in their lives?

47. Who are their heroes in life? Why?

48. What types of people does your character look down on?

49. Who do they look up to and respect? Why?

50. Who are their mentors ?

51. Why would your character refuse a call to adventure ?

52. What tragedy most affected their life?

53. What tragedy could they have prevented, but failed to?

54. Who does your character need to make amends to?

55. What are they most grateful for in their lives? Why?

56. What causes them shame?

57. What would give them more confidence in life?

58. What would make them believe in God or a higher power?

59. What would make them not believe?

60. Do they work well with others? Why or why not?

101 Character Arc Prompts

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

61. Is your character a leader?

62. Is your character a follower? Why?

63. What is the biggest grudge your character is holding onto?

64. Does your character lie?

65. What do they lie about? Why?

66. Is your character a coward? Why?

67. Is your character heroic?

68. What's an ailment they are still trying to recover from?

69. What's an injury they haven't healed from?

70. What caused the injury?

71. What are your character's negative habits?

72. What is their favorite movie? Why?

73. What is their favorite book? Why?

74. Does your character belong to a particular organization?

75. What is their innate identity?

76. What new things would rock their world most? Why?

77. Does your character have a family? If not, why are they alone?

78. What is your character most stubborn about?

79. What taboos have they broken within their community? Do they regret it?

80. Does your character trust people?

101 Character Arc Prompts

Toy Story 4 (2019)

81. Is your character trustworthy?

82. Is your character tough?

83. If so, what caused them to be so tough?

84. What would finally "break" your character?

85. Who would your character give their life for most?

86. Is your character loyal?

87. What is your character's greatest bias or prejudice?

88. What is your character's worst nightmare?

89. What is their biggest dream?

90. What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to your character?

91. What is your character's favorite place in the world?

92. What location scares them the most?

93. What item does your character treasure most?

94. What is your character's deepest physical scar? How did they get it?

95. Does your character fear authority?

96. Do they fight authority at every turn?

97. If your character could make one wish come true, what would it be?

98. What did your character want to be when they grew up?

99. Why did or didn't it work out that way?

100. What does your character want for their birthday?

101. Who does your character want at their wedding?

WANT MORE IDEAS? TAKE A LOOK AT OUR OTHER  STORY PROMPTS !

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries  Blackout , starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, the feature thriller  Hunter’s  Creed , and many produced and distributed Lifetime thrillers. Follow Ken on Twitter  @KenMovies

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Aspiring Author

101 Character Writing Prompts

Author: Natalie Harris-Spencer Updated: June 8, 2023

Expressions on eggs to represent 101 character writing prompts

In order to sell a book and get it published , you need to create a product, which, for most of us here at Aspiring Author , is a novel. And in order to write the darn thing (while lamenting your career choices), you need to live and breathe your characters. Character writing prompts can be an excellent way to help you get inside your characters’ heads and achieve that elusive narrative voice through speech, dialogue, or internal narration.

Creating real people

Creating convincing characters isn’t easy. Have you ever had that feeling that your characters are slippery, not quite sounding or doing the right things, or, worse, are fake? Have you noticed them steering their own way, diverging from your carefully outlined plot? Characters are the one device that should drive your plot – not the other way around. Follow them down whichever dark paths they choose in order to access the truth. Keep them honest and as grounded in reality as possible.

When it comes to creating 3D characters, Ernest Hemingway said it best: “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” And to write real people, you need to ground your people in reality: real circumstances, real settings, and real thoughts and feelings. These character writing prompts have been designed to help you expose the human condition in all its imperfect glory. Humans are multi-layered (ah, the onion), with numerous internal complications, feelings, and flaws. Remember: characters have to change in order for the reader to care about them. They must go on a journey, through which your novel’s plot is the vessel.

The Craft of Character by Mark Boutros

101 character writing prompts

Below are 101 character writing prompts that will help you deepen your understanding of your characters and elevate them from caricatures into real people. As you work your way through these character writing prompts, consider writing how your characters think, feel, but also change . Sameness is never interesting to read.

Physical appearance

  • Does your character have any moles, birth marks, or beauty spots? Where? Describe them.
  • Hair is not character. However, it can show something unexpected or unusual about your character. Write a scene featuring your character’s hair, without relying on the usual tropes (length, color etc.).
  • Write what your character thinks they see when they see their reflection.
  • Write a scene about your character in costume. What are they wearing, and why? How do they feel about it?
  • What does your character’s coughing, sneezing, and hiccoughing sound like?
  • What do they look like when they’re sick?
  • What’s in your character’s wallet apart from money?
  • Switch the gender of your character. How does that change how they think, feel, and move through the world?
  • Write about your character getting their ears pierced or getting a tattoo.
  • Describe your characters hands and feet.
  • Show your character doing a workout. What are they wearing? How do they look before, during and after?
  • Draw a sketch of your character’s passport. Does it help you understand who they are and where they come from?

Inner workings

  • What is your character’s biggest flaw?
  • What is your character’s biggest fear?
  • What or who would your character kill for?
  • What does your character want more than anything else in the world?
  • What is the one thing that is stopping them from getting it?
  • Write a therapy session between your character and their therapist.
  • Write a scene without dialogue that shows exactly what your character wants – only through their actions.
  • Show your character’s reaction to getting a parking ticket.
  • Write a scene about a mental health challenge your character has faced.
  • Put your character on a diet. How do they feel? What mood are they in?
  • Write about your character being insatiable thirsty.
  • Write about a time when your character couldn’t stop laughing.
  • Using just dialogue, write a scene between your character and someone they’re attracted to.
  • Your character is being lectured by someone in a position of authority. How do they react?
  • Show your character making a selfish decision and the ramifications it has on their life.
  • What is your character’s favorite book , and why? Has it always been the same book, or have their tastes evolved?
  • Write a scene where your character can’t remember what happened the night before, and they’re trying to piece it together.
  • Imagine your character is a nervous flyer. Document their thoughts during take-off.
  • Write a recollection scene about the most frightening time of your character’s life.
  • Show your character’s most embarrassing moment, either through recollection, dialogue, or action.
  • Write a scene where your character is struggling to show or purposefully concealing their real feelings and emotions.

Family, relationships, and home

  • How does your character spend their Christmas holidays, and who with?
  • Write a scene with your character attending a family funeral.
  • What are your character’s earliest memories? Do they remember their first home, their parents, or something else?
  • Your character has a bunch of keys. What do they have as keyrings?
  • Write an argument between your character and their mother and/or father.
  • Describe a family portrait: who’s in it? Where are they now?
  • Write your character’s bedtime ritual.
  • Show your character having an argument with a family member at the dinner table. Do they win?
  • What does your character’s closet and/or bedside drawer look like? What’s inside? Are they hiding anything they shouldn’t be?
  • Write a drunk argument between your character and a family member.
  • Imagine your character has a twin. List their similarities and differences, both physical and otherwise.
  • Write about your character on graduation day.
  • Write about your character going on a blind date.
  • Your character is getting married. They choose an unusual wedding cake topper. What is it, and why is it important?
  • Does your character want kids now or in the future? Why or why not?
  • Write a scene where your character moves to a new town. Are they welcome? Why or why not?
  • Write about a home invasion. Show your character’s possessions strewn and/or missing. What’s the first thing they check?
  • Your character opens a letter not addressed to them, only to discover a secret about the previous resident. How do they react?
  • Write a sex scene without mentioning anatomy (you can do it!).
  • Put your character in a country where they don’t speak the language. How do they get by?
  • Show your character meeting their first love again for the first time in ten years.

Epistolary character writing prompts

  • Write a letter in your character’s handwriting.
  • Write a Craigslist ad from the voice of your character.
  • Write an Airbnb listing for your character.
  • Write your character’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Create an online dating profile for your character.
  • Write a letter to your character’s younger self.
  • Create a tarot card reading for your character.
  • Come up with your character’s regular take-out order.
  • Write out your character’s family tree, including dates of birth, marriage, and death.
  • Write a postcard home from a far-flung destination.
  • Write a journal entry from a pivotal day in your character’s life.
  • Write a Valentine’s Day card from your character.
  • Write your character’s weekly shopping list. Include one item that doesn’t go with the rest.
  • Write a text conversation between your character and another person who they are trying to seduce or win over.
  • Write two lies and a truth for your character. The lies should be as convincing as the truth.
  • Write a scene with your character on the top of a Ferris wheel. What can they see? How do they feel?
  • Write a scene with your character in a haunted house.
  • Write a scene with your character falling asleep on the deck of a boat.
  • Write a scene with your character in a station waiting room. Where are they going and why?
  • Write a scene with your character in a hospital bed.
  • Your character has just been discovered stealing a midnight snack. How do they respond?
  • Write a scene with your character at a baseball game.
  • Write a scene with your character at a fireworks display.
  • Write a scene where your character is in a cemetery in the snow.
  • Your character is going on a camping trip. What do they pack?
  • Write a scene showing your character going into a church or place of worship.
  • Write a scene at the top of revolving skyscraper restaurant.
  • Your character makes a surprising discovery in a hotel room. What is it?
  • Your character enters an antiques store. What trinket do they come away with?
  • Write a scene where your character gets lost in a vineyard.
  • Write a scene with your character on a boardwalk or pier.
  • Imagine your character living in another decade. Now write about them – their clothes, their job, their desires.

Nature and animals

  • What is your character’s favorite season and why?
  • Write about your character ice skating on a frozen pond.
  • What does your character see when they look up at the night sky?
  • Is your character a cat or a dog person?
  • Or do they have an unusual pet? Write about it!
  • Write about your character accidentally hitting an animal with their car.
  • Write about your character’s experience of dissecting a frog in a science lesson.
  • What’s the first animal your character goes to see at the zoo?
  • Your character gets stung by a bee. How do they react?
  • Write a scene with your character sunbathing on a tropical beach.
  • Write a scene with your character skinny dipping in a lake.
  • Write a scene with your character watching the sun rise from a mountain top.
  • Take your character for a walk in the woods when the light is fading.
  • Describe the images, shapes, and patterns your character sees in passing clouds.
  • Write a scene where your character is caught in a thunderstorm.

Of course, there are countless more character writing prompts that you can work on. We hope these 101 character writing prompts from Aspiring Author give you just enough to spark your writerly imagination and take your characters to multi-layered, unexpected, and very real places. And trust yourself that your characters can be strange, because the truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

Recommended reading

Here at Aspiring Author , we love recommending bestsellers and fawning over hot new releases. On this real time recommended reading list, you will find a list of top rated books on the publishing industry, craft, and other books to help you elevate your writing career.

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Random Husband

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My First Book of Patterns: Pencil Control

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Matters Of The Heart: Vol. 1

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Hedged: How Private Investment Funds Helped Destroy American Newspapers and Undermine Democracy (The History of Media and Communication)

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Creative Writing Prompts

When the idea to start a weekly newsletter with writing inspiration first came to us, we decided that we wanted to do more than provide people with topics to write about. We wanted to try and help authors form a regular writing habit and also give them a place to proudly display their work. So we started the weekly Creative Writing Prompts newsletter. Since then, Prompts has grown to a community of more than 450,000 authors, complete with its own literary magazine, Prompted .  

Here's how our contest works: every Friday, we send out a newsletter containing five creative writing prompts. Each week, the story ideas center around a different theme. Authors then have one week — until the following Friday — to submit a short story based on one of our prompts. A winner is picked each week to win $250 and is highlighted on our Reedsy Prompts page.

Interested in participating in our short story contest? Sign up here for more information! Or you can check out our full Terms of Use and our FAQ page .

Why we love creative writing prompts

If you've ever sat in front of a computer or notebook and felt the urge to start creating worlds, characters, and storylines — all the while finding yourself unable to do so — then you've met the author's age-old foe: writer's block. There's nothing more frustrating than finding the time but not the words to be creative. Enter our directory! If you're ready to kick writer's block to the curb and finally get started on your short story or novel, these unique story ideas might just be your ticket.

This list of 1800+ creative writing prompts has been created by the Reedsy team to help you develop a rock-solid writing routine. As all aspiring authors know, this is the #1 challenge — and solution! — for reaching your literary goals. Feel free to filter through different genres, which include...

Dramatic — If you want to make people laugh and cry within the same story, this might be your genre.

Funny — Whether satire or slapstick, this is an opportunity to write with your funny bone.

Romance — One of the most popular commercial genres out there. Check out these story ideas out if you love writing about love.

Fantasy — The beauty of this genre is that the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Dystopian – Explore the shadowy side of human nature and contemporary technology in dark speculative fiction.

Mystery — From whodunnits to cozy mysteries, it's time to bring out your inner detective.

Thriller and Suspense — There's nothing like a page-turner that elicits a gasp of surprise at the end.

High School — Encourage teens to let their imaginations run free.

Want to submit your own story ideas to help inspire fellow writers? Send them to us here.

After you find the perfect story idea

Finding inspiration is just one piece of the puzzle. Next, you need to refine your craft skills — and then display them to the world. We've worked hard to create resources that help you do just that! Check them out:

  • How to Write a Short Story That Gets Published — a free, ten-day course by Laura Mae Isaacman, a full-time editor who runs a book editing company in Brooklyn.
  • Best Literary Magazines of 2023 — a directory of 100+ reputable magazines that accept unsolicited submissions.
  • Writing Contests in 2023 — the finest contests of 2021 for fiction and non-fiction authors of short stories, poetry, essays, and more.

Beyond creative writing prompts: how to build a writing routine

While writing prompts are a great tactic to spark your creative sessions, a writer generally needs a couple more tools in their toolbelt when it comes to developing a rock-solid writing routine . To that end, here are a few more additional tips for incorporating your craft into your everyday life.

  • NNWT. Or, as book coach Kevin Johns calls it , “Non-Negotiable Writing Time.” This time should be scheduled into your routine, whether that’s once a day or once a week. Treat it as a serious commitment, and don’t schedule anything else during your NNWT unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Set word count goals. And make them realistic! Don’t start out with lofty goals you’re unlikely to achieve. Give some thought to how many words you think you can write a week, and start there. If you find you’re hitting your weekly or daily goals easily, keep upping the stakes as your craft time becomes more ingrained in your routine.
  • Talk to friends and family about the project you’re working on. Doing so means that those close to you are likely to check in about the status of your piece — which in turn keeps you more accountable.

Arm yourself against writer’s block. Writer’s block will inevitably come, no matter how much story ideas initially inspire you. So it’s best to be prepared with tips and tricks you can use to keep yourself on track before the block hits. You can find 20 solid tips here — including how to establish a relationship with your inner critic and apps that can help you defeat procrastination or lack of motivation.

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Writing Forward

Character-Driven Fiction Writing Prompts

by Melissa Donovan | Jul 23, 2020 | Fiction Writing Prompts | 12 comments

character writing prompts

Creative writing prompts for creating characters.

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.

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.

Personality

  • 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.

Creative Writing Prompts

12 Comments

Sarah Allen

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 🙂

Melissa Donovan

Thanks, Sarah. Good luck to you!

Tonya

(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!

Lilybet

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!

Vicki M. Taylor

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.

Jullian Regina

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.

Smitha

Thank you Mellissa for this. It is extremely helpful. I am going to relook at the characters I’ve created based on this.

You’re welcome.

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75+ Free Character Ideas to Inspire Fiction Writers in 2024

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There are sparks of inspiration all around us. Yet, without the proper tools and techniques to develop them, they’re just sparks.

I’m sure you once had a flood of character ideas that now exist only in your memory.

I’m here to help you bring them to life and develop them into three-dimensional characters for your short story , novel or screenplay !

Continue reading to learn how to create fictional characters effectively, how AI tools can help, and much more!

75+ Character Ideas to Use for Your Own Novel or Screenplay!

Here’s what you probably came here for – the list of fantastic, unique character ideas. I’ve separated them into common fiction genres , so you can find what you need easily.

I hope one of these helps inspire your next story character!

  • A young girl discovers she has the ability to see into the supernatural realm and communicate with its creatures. Her power haunts her as it only brings her misfortune and makes her a target for dark forces.
  • A strong-willed woman who makes rash decisions that often lead to dangerous consequences. Her impulsiveness often puts those around her in fear of their safety, but at times she can use her courage to save others from harm.
  • A cursed man whose soul was taken by an unknown force and now hosts an evil spirit that could take control at any moment. He cannot remember his past life, nor is he aware of what lies ahead in the future.
  • A teenage girl born with telekinetic powers that give her great potential but also comes with immense responsibility.
  • An ambitious author whose thirst for knowledge often leads him down dark paths where danger lurks around every turn, yet his fearlessness gives him an edge over those seeking to do harm.

horror

  • Troubled and tormented since childhood, her inner darkness manifests as uncontrollable rage when provoked.
  • A reluctant medium who discovers he has the ability to speak with the spirits of the dead – but wishes nothing more than for them to leave him alone.
  • A war veteran has returned home from battle, scarred both physically and mentally. He finds comfort in numbing himself from reality. But even under a thick fog of alcohol, no escape can be found forever as demons from his past begin emerging.
  • An archaeologist with an insatiable need to uncover ancient artifacts no matter how much danger that entails.
  • An old professor, driven mad by ambition, ventures further into forbidden realms of arcane magic, hoping to find enlightenment.

RELATED: If you’re writing a horror story, you might want to learn more about the monster archetype , monster ideas , and unique names for monsters !

Action-Adventure

  • A suave and daring explorer who never backs down from any challenge – he is always looking for the next great adventure but often overlooks the importance of caution in his haste to take action.
  • A streetwise ex-convict with a penchant for getting himself into trouble – he is not afraid to do what needs to be done to survive in harsh environments, but his questionable tactics cause more harm than good.
  • An experienced soldier who is used to taking orders and following them diligently – despite her strong will and loyalty, she has difficulty understanding or accepting orders that go against her own code of ethics.
  • A brave and courageous woman whose biggest flaw is her overconfidence – she will often underestimate an opponent or situation and doesn’t hesitate to throw herself into danger.
  • An adrenaline junkie with an infectious enthusiasm for life that draws people towards him like moths to a flame. Although he loves living on the edge, sometimes his decisions are too risky, and the consequences are severe.

yellow Volkswagen van on road

  • A wise old man who often finds himself put in positions of authority due to his vast knowledge and experience, despite his aversion towards such responsibility.
  • A mysterious woman whose cheery disposition hides secrets so dark they may haunt her forever if revealed – while she may put on pretenses of being carefree, she lives in fear more than anyone else in the group.
  • A nomadic wanderer searching for something new far away from familiar places and faces – her greatest strength lies in her ability to adapt quickly no matter what situation she finds herself in, though it also occasionally leads her astray.
  • A skilled fighter whose physical prowess does not overshadow his inner struggles with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression – this combination makes him both powerful yet fragile at the same time.
  • A young man eager to prove himself worthy of joining the group despite being the least experienced among them all, he throws himself headfirst into danger, just trying to keep up with everyone else.
  • An enigmatic person who speaks few words yet carries immense wisdom within those words – many have learned lessons from her without ever realizing it until much later. Now, credit should be given where it’s deserved.
  • A teenage girl with a troubled past and a unique ability to manipulate the minds of others. She uses her power to seek revenge on those who wronged her.
  • A scientist obsessed with discovering new technologies that could help mankind and prevent disasters. With no family or friends, she often puts her research ahead of everything else, leading to isolation and loneliness.
  • A brilliant hacker whose life was ruined when he got caught up in a conspiracy involving wealthy businessmen and government officials. His biggest flaw is his addiction to the thrill of outsmarting those in power.
  • An undercover agent for a powerful international organization with many secrets to keep. He’s loyal to the cause and willing to do whatever it takes, but his biggest flaw is his reluctance to take others into his trust – sometimes even those closest to him.
  • A mysterious woman from an unknown realm with formidable powers that make her almost invincible in combat situations – but she also carries immense guilt for crimes committed in the past which haunt her day in and day out.

tunnel, dark, shadowmen

  • An intelligent man with an uncanny ability to survive amongst danger thanks both to his brains and brawn – but he has made many enemies along the way as well.
  • An eccentric millionaire playboy whose primary interest revolves around money rather than people – although he would like to find someone he can truly connect with.
  • A beautiful siren whose enchanting voice lures people away without them ever remembering what happened once they’re gone – however, this talent brings its own risks as people begin questioning the source of her unique power.
  • Despite living most of her life in seclusion due to an ancient curse upon her family, she possesses incredible magical powers stemming from her royal heritage.
  • An experienced criminal mastermind who has been blamed for countless acts of villainy throughout his career – deep down, there lies a shred of decency.
  • A wise druid with the ability to transform into a bear. She has a deep understanding of nature but is prone to short-tempered outbursts when her advice is not taken seriously.
  • A brave warrior from afar who travels alone in search of adventure and glory. He wields an enchanted sword and wears armor made from an unknown metal that cannot be damaged by any known weapon.
  • A young elf princess with the power to commune with animals and manipulate nature itself. She is naive, having lived the majority of her life sheltered within the royal court, but she possesses a strong will and sharp mind that can make her dangerous.
  • An arrogant but skilled fighter who never hesitates to prove her worth in combat. She wields two blades imbued with lightning that strike faster than any other swordsman alive.

airship, city, mushroom

  • A ranger whose body has merged with the mutated remains of an animal during a hunt gone wrong many years ago; now gifted (or cursed) with increased speed and strength.
  • A mysterious sea captain with pointed ears, hailing from a lost civilization beneath the depths – her wealth comes from many different oceans, though none can tell what exactly she’s smuggling–except for maybe those closest to her.
  • A master thief capable of scaling walls like a spider using only two hooks attached to each hand, he stole countless priceless artifacts across numerous kingdoms before settling down later in their old age—never quite giving up his criminal ways completely.

Science-Fiction

  • A master engineer with a flair for the outlandish. His genius often leads his creations to destruction.
  • A half-alien hybrid whose extraordinary physical features grant him superhuman abilities but also result in prejudice from others.
  • A hacker extraordinaire who is obsessed with robotics and virtual reality technology but suffers from crippling anxiety and depression.
  • An experienced bounty hunter who excels in tracking her targets across multiple star systems but has trouble controlling her temper when things don’t go her way.
  • An AI scientist whose research focuses on creating intelligent artificial life forms to help humanity, but she hides a deep secret that could put her creations at risk if discovered.
  • A gunslinger in search of justice and revenge, who has the uncanny ability to heal wounds using the force of will alone, although it leaves him weak and tired after each episode of healing.
  • An ex-military pilot with extreme agility in space combat but is haunted by past traumas, which cause him to act impulsively in battle situations.

a man standing in a tunnel with a glowing orb in the center

  • A shape-shifting alien species living among humans as an undercover agent trying to unlock the mysteries of human emotions so her own species can experience them too.
  • A time traveler capable of traveling through space, time, and dimensions – yet cursed by not being able to remember anything about his past or his family.
  • A powerful sorceress who can manipulate almost any form of energy around her yet struggles with containing her emotions while casting spells out of anger.
  • A cyborg ninja warrior controlled by a central computer program – now, he is starting to experience glitches in his programming, causing strange behaviors.
  • A private investigator gifted with heightened senses that allow him to unearth secrets no one else can find – yet, at times, he alters the truth due to personal biases.
  • An empath who can sense the emotional states of those around her yet doomed to feel all emotions much more deeply than normal humans.

Murder Mystery

  • A wealthy entrepreneur with a mysterious past, whose smooth-talking charm masks a deep-seated narcissism and penchant for manipulation.
  • An icy waitress with a hidden agenda who has had to make some tough decisions in her life. She is fiercely loyal but struggles to trust anyone outside her small circle of allies.
  • An investigative journalist with vast knowledge of the criminal underworld. His intense hunger to uncover the truth often leads him into dangerous situations in which he must use his special gifts to escape unscathed.
  • A shady financial advisor with a shady past who appears charming when everything is going well but reveals a darker side when things take a turn for the worse.
  • A beautiful yet intimidating vigilante determined to bring justice back into society by any means necessary–legal or illegal.

ai generated, jack the ripper, villain

  • A retired doctor turned mad scientist on a quest for immortality – he believes that playing god will finally solve the world’s problems.
  • A young girl who lost both parents at an early age, she developed strong survival skills during this tragic time while also seeing how cruel the world can be.
  • A young war veteran who recently arrived in a new town is already developing a reputation for strangeness.
  • An independent young woman who desires a passionate and meaningful relationship, yet her guarded nature makes it difficult for her to trust others and open up emotionally.
  • A wealthy playboy whose attempts at romance lack emotion, leaving him unable to experience true intimacy with other people.
  • A shy and introverted man who hides behind his art, though passionate in his work, he rarely shows the same passion in his personal life.
  • An outgoing woman with a wild streak – she loves passionately but often finds herself disappointed in the end as she has difficulty connecting deeply with others on an emotional level.
  • A free spirit who is open to new experiences and loves exploring the world – he never wants to be tied down by commitment, even though deep down, he yearns for something more permanent and meaningful in his life.
  • Despite being incredibly beautiful on the outside, she can’t bring herself to believe someone could truly love her; this leads her into dangerous relationships, further damaging her self-esteem over time.
  • An old-fashioned man whose sense of honor is too strong for his own good – instead of following his heart and taking risks, he sticks safely within the confines of societal expectations even when it hurts him.

couple kissing in front of trees

  • An ambitious career woman who distances herself from emotional connections as they tend to detract from her focus on success – yet beneath her professional demeanor, there is an intense longing for something more meaningful in her life.
  • A kindhearted gentle giant whose efforts are often misunderstood by ungrateful friends or family members until they realize how much he truly cares about those around him.
  • An empathetic soul whose biggest struggle is trusting anyone else enough to share her emotions or secrets with them– fear holds back any hope of finding true love unless she learns how to overcome it first.
  • A world traveler and a language teacher cross paths and form a connection, but must determine how to make their relationship work despite their conflicting lifestyles.
  • A psychic who is skeptical of love finds themselves falling for a cynic who denies all belief in the supernatural, leading to a conflict of beliefs and personal values.
  • A fashion buyer and a sustainable designer with different ideals of fashion and consumption fall in love and must reconcile their differences in order to make their relationship work.
  • An archaeologist falls in love with the guardian of a precious and ancient relic, leading to a battle between personal passion and professional duty.
  • An introverted author who’s sworn off relationships and social media falls in love with a book blogger who challenges them to step out of their comfort zone.
  • A popular podcaster whose relationship history is the topic of discussion on their show falls for a listener who challenges them to redefine their ideas of love and intimacy.
  • Elara, a reserved yet fiercely intelligent inventor in her mid-30s, creates a futuristic machine capable of predicting the future. As she grapples with the ethical consequences, her invention attracts dangerous attention.
  • Captain Isolde, a daring and charismatic airship pirate in her late 20s, seeks a mythical floating city. Her adventurous spirit masks a past filled with hardship and loss, driving her relentless pursuit of the city’s secrets.
  • Thomas, a young, warm-hearted mechanic with a literal clockwork heart, navigates love and prejudice in a society where mechanical augmentations are both marvelled at and scorned.
  • Detective Gregory, a seasoned yet cynical investigator in his 40s, uncovers a hidden society where conscious automatons fight for equality. His discovery challenges his long-held beliefs about technology and humanity.
  • Amelia, a resourceful and quick-witted spy in her early 30s, uses her inventive steampunk gadgets to foil a royal conspiracy. Her quest reveals a deeper plot, testing her loyalty and cunning.

What Are Character Ideas?

Developing character ideas involves combining aspects of a person, such as personality, backstory, appearance, and quirks, to create unique individuals for your story.

These well-rounded characters make your story more alive.

Inspiration for character ideas can come from many places, including real life or imagination. It’s normal for your initial ideas to be incomplete, so beginning with a fundamental character type can be a useful starting point. Let’s look at some of those next!

Common Character Archetypes

Character archetypes are a fantastic tool to use when creating characters. They help keep your creative juices in check so that your characters appear relatable and recognizable to readers. 

Archetypes are personas with a predetermined set of attributes and descriptions that most people are familiar with. Using them enables the audience to connect with your characters quickly. 

Take a look at these six common character archetypes:

Hero or Protagonist

Character Archetype: hero protagonist

Almost every story sings, “I need a hero,” as Bonnie Tyler did in her epic song. The protagonist in any plot is someone who stands up to adversity in the hopes of making things better – they’re usually the main characters. 

  • Strengths : Physical strength, bravery, perseverance, honor
  • Shortcomings : Arrogance, idealism, recklessness

In literature, there are different types of heroes . For example, an Everyman hero is a regular person who transforms into a heroic character, like Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spiderman.

Then there are the epic heroes inspired by mythology and have superhuman abilities, such as Thor.

Villain or Nemesis Figure

character archetype: villain

A hero needs a villain or nemesis to add conflict to a story and spice it up. The villain could be a complex character with superpowers or simply a bully.

  • Strengths : Cleverness, power, determination
  • Shortcomings : Deception, greed, egoism

You should note that two major factors influence the development of successful villain characters. 

The first is to have them relate to the hero in some way.

There should be a series of events leading to the realization that their fates were once intertwined. In Tim Burton’s Batman , for example, viewers were shocked to learn that the Joker killed Batman’s parents. 

The second factor is molding the villains into worthy opponents. This makes a story far more interesting and has the effect of glamorizing the hero.

Anti-Hero or Antagonist

Character Archetype Examples: anti-hero

Antagonists are like roadblocks in the protagonist’s path, but they aren’t always the villains . However, the antagonists’ personalities are often similar to those of the villains; they share many strengths, weaknesses, and character quirks.

Both the hero and anti-hero characters go on to present the good and bad in us, which makes them relatable to readers.

The film The Hunger Games displayed this relationship well. The hero, Katniss Everdeen, faced other contestants – some good and some evil – but in either case, they were simply antagonists and not the story’s true villain.

Mentor Figure

Character Archetype Examples : Mentor Figure

In most stories, there’s a character whose job is to guide, teach, or protect the protagonist. This person is known as the mentor or sage . 

Mentors are characters who have a distinct set of skills, knowledge, or past experience, which they share with the hero to help them grow wiser or stronger so as to overcome the obstacles in the plot.

  • Strengths : Wisdom, patience, insight, selflessness
  • Shortcomings : Passive, wary, hesitant

A mentor can be a teacher, best friend, mother, or someone else. They frequently become our favorite characters because of their intellect and compassion.

Consider Gandalf from Lord of the Rings or Ben Kenobi from Star Wars to understand what a typical sage looks like.

Love Interests (Romantic, Platonic, and Fictional)

Character Archetype Examples: Love Interest

Then, when you need to add a dash of emotion to your story, it’s time to create love interests. They’ll portray the beauty and sometimes tragedy of relationships.

  • Strengths : Passion, affection, devotion
  • Shortcomings : Jealousy, obsession, irrationality

Love interests can be the romantic love the protagonist seeks, but they’re not limited to that. These characters can also display the love of friendships, families, religion, and more. 

Therefore, sometimes they’ll portray a passionate relationship of young lovers, as in Romeo and Juliet . Other times, they’ll represent the protective love of sisterhood, such as between Anna and Elsa in Frozen .

Supporting Cast Characters (Friends, Family, Allies)

Character Archetype Examples: Supporting characters

The supporting characters are the ones who give a story a place to call home. They’re the protagonist’s safe haven when things go south, which, believe it or not, is exactly what a reader looks for during the story’s dark times.

These other characters provide comfort and solutions to the main character and can take various forms. They can be family members, coworkers, friends, and so on.

  • Strengths : Supportive, self-reliant, nurturing
  • Shortcomings : Skeptic, isolated

As you write these characters, think of the movie Wonder and how Auggie’s parents were his go-to whenever he felt down and needed advice.

How to Develop Fictional Characters

It’s time to bring your initial ideas to life by developing your fictional characters. This involves giving them depth through personality traits, quirks, goals, and other details that round them out.

In other words, it’s upping your writing skills through the process of generating ideas that’ll make characters more relatable to readers. 

You’ll need to pay closer attention to this process, especially when writing about dynamic characters. How they change throughout your story or novel must feel natural rather than forced.

Here are the three major steps in character development to help you get started on your imaginative journey:

Step 1: Choose the Right Details

After you’ve settled on an archetype for your character, you’ll need to add unique details for the sake of its originality. 

Consider the details of the character from the inside out. This means that the character’s appearance should be your last stop. We can use physical features to help describe a character’s personality, so it’s best to save them for last.

face, woman, old

Thinking about the connection I want the reader to have with the characters always helps me meticulously create their details. 

Assume I’m writing about a mentor archetype. I want readers to have faith in the character’s wisdom and experience.

So, age is one of the first details I’ll consider. A person with a wealth of knowledge should be older, so if I described a 10-year-old mentor in this context, it wouldn’t be as convincing. 

The more you explore the impact you want your character to have on readers, the more details, such as experience, goals, and intention, will emerge.

Step 2: Create a Backstory

You might think a backstory is essential for the reader to connect with the character, but it’s more important to the writer. 

When you start writing a backstory for your characters, it becomes much easier to interpret their behavior and generate ideas for their actions. It’s as if you get to know their past and where they’re coming from so well that writing about them feels natural. 

Woman in Beige Long Sleeve Shirt Sitting on Chair

Always take your time developing your character’s backstory because it’ll greatly influence their fears, weaknesses, quirks, traits, and even physical characteristics.

Step 3: Establish Personality Traits

Last but not least, you’ll need to pinpoint the main traits of your characters that will guide their behavior throughout the course of your story. 

boy wearing gray vest and pink dress shirt holding book

Choose the personality traits wisely, as they’re the character’s tools in making decisions, dealing with conflicts , and other similar defining scenarios. 

Above all, don’t forget to include character flaws in the mix so that readers find them believable.

It’s all about balancing the good and the bad in a story character. The ratio of one may increase in a specific role, but both sides have to be present.

Creating Original Character Ideas

When you create characters, you want them to stand out in the reader’s mind. That’s a significant part of what makes a story memorable. The following points are your shortcut to getting there:

Brainstorming Techniques for Developing Unique Character Concepts

There are three brainstorming strategies that I find extremely helpful in creating an interesting character concept:

1. Free Writing

Set aside some time to write down whatever comes to mind about your characters without stopping.

person using black iPad turned on

By expressing your ideas freely, you’ll reveal unexpected details that deepen the complexity of your character.

2. Date/Interview

Treat your characters as real people to get to know them on different levels.

couple dining out

You can act as if you’re talking to them on a date or an interview. Keep asking questions that reveal aspects of their personality that are mysterious to you.

3. Personality Tests

Take personality tests as if you were the character. This will give a better idea of their characteristics and tendencies. A test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a good place to start.

gray and white click pen on white printer paper

Knowing your characters’ personality types will set the tone for the rest of their qualities, from strengths to weaknesses and more.

Using AI to Spark Creativity and Encourage Exploration of New Ideas

There are a few AI tools for fiction writers that are simply a treat to use. Novel Factory , for example, is a writing software that can help you write a full manuscript while also providing a character management feature.

Sudowrite also has an excellent character generator tool. 

Incorporating Real-Life Inspiration Into Your Characters

Once you’ve embraced the concept of drawing inspiration from real life, you’ll never look back. This is one of the richest sources of original ideas for writers. You can get an authentic vision of how your characters should act simply by observing your friends or family members. 

Pick anyone close to you and analyze their actions and behaviors in various contexts. For instance, take note of how they behave in happy or emotionally charged situations.

In the end, you’ll realize that you possess a wealth of insights to help you develop a unique character concept that readers believe in.

Using AI to Generate Character Ideas

If you’re still at the beginning and struggling to come up with character writing ideas, the following AI tools can help:

Sudowrite

Sudowrite is my favorite AI story generator and AI character generator for fiction authors. It was the first AI writing software to focus specifically on the needs of creative writers, and I have found it to be fantastic for brainstorming!

Here’s how you can input your starting ideas into Sudowrite’s ‘brainstorm’ tool:

Sudowrite character brainstorm

Here are some of the results that Sudowrite gave me:

Sudowrite character brainstorm results

I could have kept going and received tons more ideas for character traits for this character – you just keep pressing the ‘thumbs down’ and more ideas will be generated!

You can learn more about it and my other favorite AI novel writing software programs , in my Sudowrite review .

best ai story generator

Jasper is one of the most powerful content generators available. It can assist you in putting together personality traits to create relatable, multidimensional characters.

If you’re unsure about their names, delegate this task to Jasper; it has a massive database of distinctive character names.

This tool can also help you create character backstories, relationships, and dialogues!

Chat-GPT

ChatGPT has received rave reviews since its release, and it’s well worth it. This tool can brainstorm new character ideas and concepts. If you already have an inspiration, enter it into the tool and mention that you want to add more depth. ChatGPT will work its magic!

However, you do need to know how to prompt the AI, which is why a purpose-built AI for creative writers (like Sudowrite!) is my top recommendation!

creative writing ideas for character

Final Thoughts: Character Writing Ideas for Fiction Writers

Writing characters is such an exciting and rewarding experience for fiction writers. You never know who you will create and the level of impact the character can have on your story’s plot or readers.

Following the ideas and advice in this article and putting in your own unique spin will help you create totally unique characters that readers will love!

One of the most rewarding experiences in writing is creating a character that feels truly alive. To achieve this, you’ve got to focus on both the surface traits and the deeper personality traits of your character.

So, put pen to paper and begin exploring the thousands of stories held within each character!

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Filmmaker, Author, Actor and Story Consultant

Neil Chase is an award-winning, produced screenwriter, independent filmmaker, professional actor, and author of the horror-western novel Iron Dogs. His latest feature film is an apocalyptic thriller called Spin The Wheel.

Neil has been featured on Celtx, No Film School, Script Revolution, Raindance, The Write Practice, Lifewire, and MSN.com, and his work has won awards from Script Summit, ScreamFest, FilmQuest and Cinequest (among others).

Neil believes that all writers have the potential to create great work. His passion is helping writers find their voice and develop their skills so that they can create stories that are entertaining and meaningful. If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, he's here to help!

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creative writing ideas for character

The Best Character Template Ever (100+ Character Traits!)

creative writing ideas for character

So you have an awesome story and want to bring it to life with some incredible characters, but organizing all those character ideas in your head can be tough!

I know, I’ve been there. We’ve all been there (trust me, I did a very legit survey of us all).

To help, here is a very thorough list of more than 100 different character traits you can use to understand more about your character than you do about your friends and family. Fill out this template with as many or as few details as you’d like. You can even grab your fillable PDF at the bottom of this article.

Readers will sniff out a half-baked character from a mile away, and you better pray they never find a poorly written character in your book. Luckily, this template will help you avoid both of those pitfalls.

How to Use This Template

Hopefully, this template is, for the most part, straightforward. But there are some options that might give you some pause. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to quickly go over the different sections of the template.

In general, the traits get deeper and deeper into the abyss of your character’s soul the further down the list you go.

Demographics are your basics. This is the sort of information someone could likely glean from a short conversation with your character or what the government might gather from a census.

Physical appearance is what someone would notice about your character if they looked at them. This goes beyond just hair, eye, and skin color, though. Things like your character’s gait or their fashion style can add a lot of depth for your reader.

History allows you to understand a character’s past. More importantly, it allows you to understand how that past affects their actions in your story. Some of this information might never see the light of day, but it allows you to craft dynamic, complex characters.

Psychological traits are those that aren’t readily apparent to an onlooker but are critical to how your character operates in any given situation. This is where you start getting deep with things like flaws , desires, and traits that make people (or non-people) who they are.

Communication is not only important for things like dialogue and writing, but they are easy ways for you to differentiate between your characters .

Strengths, weaknesses, and abilities are very vague terms but are quite important. This is especially true for genres like fantasy or sci-fi, and these traits can be helpful when crafting your main characters, including villains .

Relationships are important for characters, even if it means highlighting how alone they are. Relationships can go a lot further than immediate friends, family, or partners. Try and take some time to think about exactly who is involved in your character’s life.

Character growth is the most important category in this template. Here is where you include things like arcs, archetypes, conflicts, goals, and motivation. You need to pay attention to this section, because these ideas will be the ones that make memorable characters.

So check out the template below and think about how you can use it to build your characters. 

The Best Character Template Ever

Demographics.

  • Sex/Gender:
  • Occupation:
  • Socioeconomic status:
  • Other notes:

Physical Appearance

  • Skin color:
  • Hair color:
  • Fitness level:
  • Scars/Birthmarks:
  • Other distinguishing features:
  • Disabilities:
  • Fashion style:
  • Accessories:
  • Cleanliness/Grooming:
  • Posture/Gait:
  • Coordination (or lack thereof):
  • Weaknesses:
  • Birth date:
  • Place of birth:
  • Key family members:
  • Notable events/milestones:
  • Criminal record:
  • Affiliations:
  • Skeletons in the closet:

Psychological Traits

  • Personality type:
  • Personality traits:
  • Temperament:
  • Introvert/Extrovert:
  • Mannerisms:
  • Educational background:
  • Intelligence:
  • Self-esteem:
  • Skills/talents:
  • Morals/Virtues:
  • Phobias/Fears:
  • Angered by:
  • Pet peeves:
  • Obsessed with:
  • Bad habits:
  • Favorite sayings:
  • Accomplishments:

Communication

  • Languages known:
  • Preferred communication methods:
  • Style and pacing of speech:
  • Use of gestures:
  • Facial expressions:
  • Verbal expressions:

Strengths, Weaknesses, and Abilities

  • Physical strengths:
  • Physical weaknesses:
  • Intellectual strengths:
  • Intellectual weaknesses:
  • Interpersonal strengths:
  • Interpersonal weaknesses:
  • Physical abilities:
  • Magical abilities:
  • Physical illnesses/conditions:
  • Mental illnesses/conditions:

Relationships

  • Partner(s)/Significant other(s):
  • Parents/Guardians:
  • Grandparents:
  • Grandchildren:
  • Best friends:
  • Colleagues:
  • Mentors/Teachers:
  • Idols/Role models:
  • Non-living things:
  • Clubs/Memberships:
  • Social media presence:
  • Public perception of them:

Character Growth

  • Character archetype:
  • Character arc:
  • Core values:
  • Internal conflicts:
  • External conflicts:
  • Goals: 
  • Motivations:
  • Epiphanies:
  • Significant events/plot points:

Craft Amazing Characters With Dabble

Creating characters your readers will love (or love to hate) has never been easier than with Dabble. By keeping all of your notes about characters and your plot just a click away from your manuscript, you’ll be able to write a story that is bound for the bestseller lists.

You can click here to grab a PDF copy of this template, or you can just copy and paste the categories you want from this article directly into your Character Notes in Dabble.

That’s not all! We also have a handful of other resources that can help you make some awesome characters. Be sure to check out:

  • Our complete guide to creating characters
  • 101 character goals
  • A metric ton of character ideas you can use with this template
  • 65 character development questions
  • 20 original character interview questions
  • A downloadable character profile

The best part? You can add all of these into your character’s folder in Dabble. Your character will be more real than you or I.

Enough dilly-dallying, time for Dabbling. Click here to get started with your totally free, no credit card required trial of Dabble and build your amazing characters today.

Happy writing!

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.

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Home / Book Writing / 17 Character Development Exercises for Writers

17 Character Development Exercises for Writers

Character development exercises are short forms of deliberate practice to improve your writing skills and round out your characters.

They are typically not used in the final novel, but are little extras that help you understand the personalities that you are writing.

Because for some of us, nailing down that perfect character can be hard. And to help with that, we’ve assembled 17 different exercises to improve your characters.

  • Why character exercises are important
  • A list of 17 different exercises that you can implement today
  • Examples and advice to improve your characters

Table of contents

  • Why Are Character Development Exercises Important?
  • Exercise #1: Write a FULL Description
  • Exercise #2: Play Dress Up
  • Exercise #3: Write a Description Scene Through the Character’s Eyes
  • Exercise #4: Practice Showing Emotion
  • Exercise #5: Write a “Slice of Life” Episode
  • Exercise #6: Write Other People Gossiping About Your Character
  • Exercise #7: Write a Progression Short Story
  • Exercise #8: Draw the Character
  • Exercise #9: Create a Character Profile
  • Exercise #10: Conduct a Character Interview
  • Exercise #11: Play the “Why” Game
  • Exercise #12: Create a Character Based on Someone You Know
  • Exercise #13: Imagine What Happens Before and After the Novel
  • Exercise #14: Put Them in Horrible Situations (Muahahahahah)
  • Exercise #15: Create a Timeline
  • Exercise #16: Do a Little Fan-fiction
  • Exercise #17: Use Character Writing Prompts

So why use a character development exercise in the first place?

This may be a valid question, especially for authors like myself, who just want to dive into the writing and let the characters unfold as I write.

But honestly, a little work up front can save you a load of headache afterward.

Running through a handful of these exercises will help you to:

  • Understand your character’s emotions
  • Give you practice writing in their voice and from their point of view
  • Find out what sets them apart from other characters
  • Flesh them out to create round and dynamic characters
  • Establish the relationship between your characters and the setting, or other characters
  • Deliberate practice of the process to create complex and well-written characters

In short, it’s a great way to deliberately practice writing and reduces the need to go back and do extensive revisions on your characters.

That said, this might not be the best thing to do if you’re a pantser and just want to dive in and discover your characters along the way. But it can be a great tool in your author tool belt.

Formatting Has Never Been Easier

Write and format professional books with ease.  Never before has creating formatted books been easier.

So without further ado, here are 17 of our best picks for character development exercises. 

Exercise #1 : Write a FULL Description

When it comes to writing characters, most of us focus on the facial features, things like hair color, eye color, etc.

A great way to begin getting to know your character is to do a full description of them. In a book, we might not do this to the extent you might in a creative writing exercise, which is why it’s good to practice here.

Here are some things to consider: 

  • Skin/hair/eye color
  • Do they have any warts or moles?
  • What is their hair style?
  • What is their build?
  • Do they have any scars, tattoos, etc.
  • What is their general complexion. Is their skin smooth and silky, rough and calloused, or even bruised and battered?
  • What default facial expression do they have?
  • What does he/she smell like?

Exercise #2 : Play Dress Up

What we choose to wear says a lot about a person. Someone wearing an extravagant French-style outfit from the 18th century will give you a completely different impression than a cut business suit from the 21st century.

The problem is that most authors, when they’re writing about their characters, often forget to add a lot of detail about the clothes they are wearing. It’s easy to see these things in your mind and forget that your readers don’t see what you see. They see what you write.

One way to help overcome this oversight is to continue the exercise above, but focus on clothing.

And don’t just focus on any one type, because your protagonist will most likely use several types of clothing throughout the course of your novel. Here are just some examples:

  • Travel clothing
  • Clothes for a night on the town
  • Clothes for wilderness survival
  • Combat wear

Exercise #3 : Write a Description Scene Through the Character’s Eyes

Ideally, every character should experience the same thing differently, depending on their background, their wants and desires, and their tastes.

Additionally, great prose is often written from the perspective of the character making the observation.

For example, let’s say you have two people, one who has grown up in a desert their whole life, where water is scarce, and the other who grew up in a place where water was plentiful. 

Imagine these two people on a hot day, observing a third person splashing water on their face. If you’re writing from the first character’s perspective, you could describe this as “and the man took a handful of water and wasted it on his face.” The second person might describe it this way, “I watched as the man poured the cool liquid and splashed it all over his face. I wish I were him right now.”

Do you see the difference there? In one, the character sees using water in one way as a waste, and for the other, it’s something to be sought after. 

Exercise #4 : Practice Showing Emotion

We’ve all heard the adage to “show, don’t tell,” but what does this really look like for most characters?

This is something that really only comes with practice. Once you’ve done it enough times, you’ll recognize instances where you’re saying things like “he felt hungry,” and can replace them with something like “He winced and put a hand to his stomach as it growled, and he swallowed hard.”

Character emotion is one of these areas where showing rather than telling can really enhance your novel.

Exercise #5 : Write a “Slice of Life” Episode

There are a lot of scenes in a book, and most of them have a purpose. That said, there are many scenes that probably occur in that character’s life, but that we don’t talk about because they’re not important for the story.

However, you as the author should have an idea of what happens in these less important moments.

Some examples of a “slice of life” episode might include:

  • Having dinner with family
  • Going to the bathroom
  • The morning routine
  • A conversation with a co-worker
  • Late-night conversations with a spouse
  • Cooking a meal
  • Going on vacation
  • Playing with their kids
  • Coming home a little too drunk
  • Visiting a museum

Exercise #6 : Write Other People Gossiping About Your Character

Very often, we learn more from others about ourselves that we might not have known on our own. Others can provide unique perspectives, and in some cases expose huge biases (on both sides).

For example, a proud character might not realize that he/she is proud, but it’s easy for an outside observer to spot this.

Exercise #7 : Write a Progression Short Story

In real life, people change a lot, and characters should change in stories too (most of the time). 

A great way to show this is to write a short story that examines the character at different parts of her/his life. You can focus on key moments in their life, but you could also just follow exercise #5 and focus on a few more everyday events.

The purpose of this exercise is to show how that person may have changed. Do they view the world differently as a working adult, vs as a teenager? A child? An elderly person?

What about before or after experiencing some kind of trauma?

Exercise #8 : Draw the Character

I’ll be honest, I’m not an artist. But I am a visual person, and getting some solid visuals of the character can be a huge boost in helping me understand them.

If you’re like me and really have no design skills , then finding a few photos is fine.

I’d recommend several photos though, since one might not be enough. You could have some for their face and general appearance, one for their clothes and how they look, etc.

If you know a program like Photoshop, you could even crop these together to get an even better sense of what you character looks like.

This is a great exercise for understanding the feel of a character, which is often harder to put into words.

Exercise #9 : Create a Character Profile

Imagine you work for the FBI, and you have to draft up a dossier about your character. What might that look like?

Fortunately, we’ve done a whole article about this topic, so you should definitely check that out, and also don’t forget to pick up our character profile template, which can easily help you through this process.

If you want a thorough process to identify the character’s appearance, personality, background, and more, this is the way to go. 

The best aspects to focus on are the flaws, motivations, and fears of your character. What prompts them to action? Understanding these things will help you get at the core of your character’s personality traits.

Exercise #10 : Conduct a Character Interview

Imagine you sat in a darkened room, across the table from you is your character. You can ask them anything, they won’t be offended, and they will understand the question.

What do you ask them about?

Writing a character interview is almost like writing yourself into a short story where you get to personally meet your character and ask them questions.

This is huge for helping you understand the character’s voice, but also a good strategy for building solid character backstory and character traits.

To help, we’ve already assembled over 200 character development questions that can aid you in this process.

Exercise #11 : Play the “Why” Game

This goes along with the idea of an interview, but sometimes in order to dig really deep into the motivations of your character, you’ve got to ask why.

Is your character aggressive? Ask them why. 

From there you might find out that his mother shouted at him as a kid, and he saw his parents fight a lot. Ask why.

You might learn that his father had a drinking problem and it meant that his mother took it out on him. Ask why.

From there, it might come out that his father had lost a lot of money in a business deal, leading him to turn to drink.

I hope you get the idea. The more you ask why, the more you’ll dig deeper into your character’s past, and the better you will understand them.

Exercise #12 : Create a Character Based on Someone You Know

This can be a little dangerous, because to be honest, most of the people we know are not that interesting. And we also want to avoid lawsuits for defamation if the comparison is too obvious.

That said, the people we know can be a huge inspiration to pick and choose ideas to incorporate into your characters.

For example, my own father and uncle have a really fun way of talking to each other. They’re always ribbing on each other and calling eachother weird, made-up names. You can tell that they love each other, but it’s an uncommon way of showing it.

This might make a good relationship between two people in a book.

Exercise #13 : Imagine What Happens Before and After the Novel

The writer is mostly concerned with what happens during the plot of her novel. But if written well, a character will feel like they exist long before and long after the pages of the book.

So it’s a good idea to try dreaming up what happens to these characters in that time. 

It can be dramatic, or it can be mundane. Impactful, or ordinary. It doesn’t matter much. All that matters is that you have a past and future in mind for that character (unless you plan to kill them off of course).

And who knows, you might even come up with some good ideas for other books involving those characters.

Exercise #14 : Put Them in Horrible Situations (Muahahahahah)

I’ve heard it said that you should basically put your characters through hell in a story, and never let up.

While this is good advice, it’s not always practical. That said, putting your characters through the meat-grinder is a great way to learn how they react to conflict.

These scenarios don’t have to be trials you will actually use in your novel. These are just different ways to put your character in pain and see how they react (I know I sound like a very unethical scientist, don't @ me).

Here are some possibilities:

  • The loss of a loved one
  • A diagnosis of cancer
  • The loss of a limb
  • Getting tortured
  • Breaking up with the love of their life
  • Losing everything they own
  • Being betrayed by a friend

Exercise #15 : Create a Timeline

Sometimes it’s hard to keep every part of a character’s life straight. That’s where a timeline can be helpful.

A timeline is a simple list of events in the character’s life, though they can get more complex and interesting, and you can even put some design skills to work if you want.

But timelines only have to be a simple list of events. They can include events from before their birth to their death, or they can be focused on a specific period of their life.

It will depend on the character and the story you will want to tell.

Exercise #16 : Do a Little Fan-fiction

When we’re writing a story, we might not have a full grasp on it yet, and that’s where writing fan fiction can help.

Imagine your character interacting with characters from a story you already know? Imagine the ultimate crossover between your story and your favorite franchise.

For example, what Hogwarts house would your character belong in? What might it look like when he/she is sorted and interacts with other characters in that house or other characters from the Harry Potter books.

It’s a great way to lean on characters you already know, to help unveil more about the characters you’re trying to discover.

Exercise #17 : Use Character Writing Prompts

There are a bunch of character-related creative writing prompts out there, and many of them can be quite helpful in getting your brain to think outside of the box.

In theory, we could have a list much longer than 17 if we wanted to include more of these prompts, but that would end up being too much.

Instead, I recommend this post , or checking out our list of character questions to give you ideas.

Final Thoughts on Character Development Exercises

If you’ve made it far, first of all, well done.

Second of all, you might be a little overwhelmed, but don’t worry. This list is not meant to be a checklist for everything you should do to expand on your characters.

Instead, this is a handful of ideas that you can take (or leave) and use them to better understand your characters.

As you apply these exercises, I can pretty much guarantee that you will grow as a writer, become more familiar with your characters, and increase your chances of having a great dynamic character in your books.

Let us know how it goes!

Jason Hamilton

When I’m not sipping tea with princesses or lightsaber dueling with little Jedi, I’m a book marketing nut. Having consulted multiple publishing companies and NYT best-selling authors, I created Kindlepreneur to help authors sell more books. I’ve even been called “The Kindlepreneur” by Amazon publicly, and I’m here to help you with your author journey.

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creative writing ideas for character

6 creative writing exercises for rich character

In creative writing, practice is key. Try these creative writing exercises for deeper characterization. Use every detail, from appearance to movement, gesture, voice, habit, and reputation to make your characters great:

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 1 Comment on 6 creative writing exercises for rich character

creative writing ideas for character

What do we mean by ‘rich character’?

First, what do we mean by ‘rich’ character? Call it rich characterization, deep characterization – whatever superlative you prefer. We mean characterization that shows, more than tells . Conveying character using every available narrative device to build more intriguing characters.

Creative writing exercises for fuller characters:

  • Play ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’
  • Think about ‘The clothes make the man’
  • Use language to embody emotion
  • Make setting do character work
  • Evoke habits (and changes in them)
  • Let people’s reputations precede them

1. Play ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’

As children, many English speakers learn the song ‘head, shoulders knees and toes’. Yet as adults, when we introduce characters we often stop at ‘head’.

Beginners’ character descriptions often read something like this:

‘Jemima had short brown hair and violet eyes.’

As character description, this is at least factual. We know Jemima doesn’t have long hair or brown eyes.

Yet, staying at head level for now, what if we said:

Jemima’s new pixie cut gave her a tomboyish look. The kohl she had started wearing recently amplified the piercing and perceptive quality of her violet eyes.

Some may say the description here is too much, by comparison. Of course, each writer (and reader) must decide for themselves what is too little, or too much. Yet what this doesn’t lack is concrete detail and specificity.

The description also tells us:

  • What’s changed about Jemima recently
  • Aspects of how she performs her gender
  • Character qualities suggested by appearance (intensity, intuition)

Creative Writing Exercise #1: Head, shoulders, knees and toes

Play head, shoulders, knees and toes. Describe a detail about a character at head-level in concrete terms (a hairstyle, unusual mark, wild choice of hat). Proceed to describe one detail each from shoulder level, from knee to navel, and at the level of your character’s feet.

2. Think about ‘The clothes make the man’

Mark Twain is alleged to have said, ‘The clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.’

Mark Twain quote - clothes make the man | Now Novel

Clothes, of course, make living beings of every or any gender, gender flexibility or absence of gender.

Clothes may signal :

  • Intent : For example, dressing formally (or infornally) for a job interview or conservatively to communicate respect for another culture
  • Status or title: A queen’s crown, a beauty queen’s tiara
  • Rank: For example, the Papal ferula or pastoral staff used by the Pope in the Catholic Church
  • Personality: One person may favour concealing or baggy clothing while another prefers skimpier, revealing clothing
  • Profession or educational status: A librarian’s reading glasses, a chef’s hat, an air steward or schoolboy’s fedora

They may also suggest the opposite of what we expect.

The private slob may dress in a neat style that does not admit to their chaotic home life. Especially in the era of carefully-curated social media accounts, appearance does not always align with reality .

Consider this character description that conveys the hero Pip’s sister’s proud and reproachful nature in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations :

My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes, had such a prevailing redness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether it was possible she washed herself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap. She was tall and bony, and almost always wore a coarse apron, fastened over her figure behind with two loops, and having a square impregnable bib in front, that was stuck full of pins and needles. She made it a powerful merit in herself, and a strong reproach against [her husband] Joe, that she wore this apron so much. Charles Dickens, in Great Expectations (1861), full text available here.

Creative Writing Exercise #2: Making the clothes

For this creative writing exercise, pick one of the following items identifying a character’s job, status, intent or other detail:

  • A gem-studded crown
  • A chef’s apron
  • A businesswoman’s power suit
  • A schoolgirl’s uniform

Now write 500 words describing a charactor. Use this garment or accessory – the way they wear it, handle it (or don’t wear it). Use it to show two character qualities from the following list:

  • Industriousness
  • Carelessness
  • Absent-mindedness
  • Ruthlessness
  • Rebelliousness

3. Use language to embody emotion

Building deep characterization isn’t only a task for description, of course.

The rhythm, tone and quality of the language we use in narration all contribute to an impression of character.

This is especially the case in limited third person , where the narration and the third person POV character overlap. We might narrate a clipped, brusque and brutish character in clipped, brusque and brutish phrases, for example.

Imagine, for example, a belligerent chef who dents his pots when he’s in a range:

Bang. He swung another down hard on a stone counter corner. A pot’s lid clattered to the floor as he plonked the dented casserole down, scowling.

Short phrases and the explosive alliteration of ‘p’ and ‘t’ sounds (known as plosive consonants ) create a sense of the character’s jerky, angry movements.

Besides movement and the emotion in the chef’s scowl, the language itself mirrors the character’s mood.

Creative writing exercise #3: Using emotive language

This writing exercise is courtesy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s wonderful writing manual Steering the Craft .

The exercise is given after Le Guin’s following advice:

For the moment, forget all the good advice that says good style is invisible, good art conceals art. Show off! Use the whole orchestra our wonderful language offers us! Ursula K. Le Guin, in Steering the Craft (1998) , p. 17.

The character writing exercise:

In a paragraph or so, describe an action, or a person feeling strong emotion—joy, fear, grief. Try to make the rhythm and movement of the sentences embody or represent the physical reality you’re writing about. Le Guin, Steering the Craft, p. 17.

Creative writing exercises for characterization - infographic

4. Make setting do character work

Setting and character are two separate areas of writing craft, right? Not entirely. We’ve already written about how to use setting to drive plot .

You can also involve setting in character description to create a richer sense of tone, mood and state of mind.

We used the following example by Barbara Kingsolver to illustrate this in our workbook How to Write Real Characters: Character description .

“Take this baby,” she said. […] The child had the exact same round eyes. All four of those eyes were hanging there in the darkness, hanging on me, waiting. The Budweiser sign blinked on and off, on and off, throwing a faint light that made the whites of their eyes look orange.’ Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees , p. 17.

Kingsolver captures the moment a baby is foisted on her protagonist at a rest stop beautifully.

The neon light of the Budweiser sign, reflected in the eyes of the desperate woman and the child, add a layer of quiet pathos to their situation.

Creative writing exercise #4: Making setting do character work

An archaeologist is working at a dig site when a stranger approaches them with a strange, cryptic caution. Write their conversation. Include details from their surrounds to make the stranger creepier.

5. Evoke habits (and changes in them)

Change is a vital element of character development.

If characters stayed exactly the same throughout a story, and little else changed to at least provide contrast, it would be a boring story indeed.

People are often, of course, creatures of habit. Yet conflicts and other schisms often shake us out of routines. This is one of the reasons conflict is crucial to stories. They often supply a reason for change, a reason for story.

Consider this description of a change in habit on page one of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina :

Everything had gone wrong in the Oblonsky household. The wife had found out about her husband’s relationship with their former French governess and had announced that she could not go on living in the same house with him […] The wife did not leave her own rooms and the husband stayed away from home all day. The children strayed all over the house, not knowing what to do with themselves. […] On the third morning after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky – Stiva, as he was generally called by his friends – awoke at his usual time, which was about eight o’clock, not in his wife’s bedroom but on a morocco-leather couch in his study. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (translated by Rosemary Edmonds), p. 13.

Details Tolstoy includes – the children’s ‘straying’ all over the house like lost cats, Stiva alone on his ‘morocco-leather’ couch – provide a sense of characters’ habits and changes caused by the upset of Stiva’s infidelity.

Creative writing exercise #5: Evoking habits

A teacher at a local school follows the same morning routine for years, taking the same walking route to school.

One morning, something happens on their morning route that changes their life and makes them quit teaching and pursue a new passion.

For this creative writing exercise, describe the routine, what happens on their route, and their reaction.

6. Let people’s reputations precede them

Gossip, rumour, or blowing someone’s trumpet – these are all useful ways to introduce characters, even before they appear on the page themselves.

Anticipating the way a character will match, exceed (or entirely differ from) prejudice creates intrigue.

If a character is famous, what are they famous for? What garners public interest? If they are a notorious villain, what misdeeds are widely reported or spoken about in hushed tones? Take, for example, the character of the famous parrot belonging to Dr Urbino in Love in the Time of Cholera :

Day after day, over and over again for several months, [Dr Urbino] played the songs of Yvette Guilbert and Aristide Bruant, who had charmed France during the last century, until the parrot learned them by heart. He sang them in a woman’s voice if they were hers, in a tenor’s voice if they were his, and ended with impudent laughter that was a masterful imitation of the servant girls when they heard him singing in French. The fame of his accomplishments was so widespread that on occasion distinguished visitors who had traveled from the interior on the riverboats would ask permission to see him… Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), p 20.

The delight of the parrot’s vast repertoire of imitations (the doctor also teaches him ‘to speak French like an academician’) provides a keen and lively sense of character. This imitative prowess builds the parrot’s celebrity.

Creative writing exercise #6: Preceding reputations

A famous artist is coming to a small town for a residency. A amateur artist is a fan of their work but has heard of some peculiar interests and behaviours. Her neighbor asks her over the fence whether she’s aware of his impending arrival, and the first woman tells her neighbour what she’s heard. Write their conversation.

Once you’ve completed the writing prompts above, explore 10 fun writing exercises for practicing writing tenses .

Get even more exercises in prompts to build useful character profiles .

Related Posts:

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  • Creating your own budget MFA in Creative Writing
  • 50 fun group writing exercises
  • Tags creative writing exercises

creative writing ideas for character

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

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How To Write Shop

Articles on the craft and business of writing

Creative writing prompts: character secrets and lies.

Creative Writing Prompts using Character Secrets

Creating a character with a strong internal conflict, secret, or burden makes for one compelling read! (To see more on writing a compelling protagonist, check out   The Compelling Protagonist Part 1 and Compelling Protagonist Part 2. ) It’s vital to have conflict in every scene, and when the action is quiet in your book, internal conflict will keep a reader turning the pages.

Below are writing prompts to help you find some ideas for internal secrets, lies (and therefore conflict) for your characters. Or, to find characters and stories, begin by writing about secrets and lies. These exercises are great prompts for journal writing, or will help your work-in-progress fiction as well.

Write about a broken promise.

  • What is the promise?
  • To whom was the promise made? Why is it important to this person?
  • Who made the promise? Why? Was it something they were forced to promise, or did they want to make it?
  • Why did they break it? What was so important, they had to break it?
  • Now go deeper, why did they really break it? (Look to a character fear, want, need, something that is so painfully vital they can’t keep their word.)
  • What happens when it is broken?
  • Who finds out? What is their reaction?
  • What are the repercussions of breaking the promise?

Write about a character secret.

  • What is the secret?
  • Who is keeping the secret?
  • From whom is the secret being kept?
  • Who are the people involved? (Are there more than just the two?)
  • Why does it need to be kept? What will happen if it is uncovered?
  • Who will it hurt?
  • Is someone digging to figure it out? Why? How are they involved?
  • What happens when the secret is found out?
  • What does the discoverer decide to do? Keep the secret? Let it out
  • What are the risks and rewards of each?

Write about a character lie that protects.

  • Who tells the lie? Why? What or whom are they trying to protect?
  • Who does the lie benefit?
  • Who does the lie hurt?
  • Who is involved?
  • Who will be hurt if the lie gets out?
  • What is at stake? (list each person and write what each has at stake)

Write about a character lie that is told to hurt.

  • Who tells the lie? Why? What or whom are they trying to hurt?
  • Why did they tell it? What is so important that they told a lie? Now go deeper, why did they really tell it? (look to a character fear, want, need, something that is so painful, they tell this lie.)
  • What is at stake? (list each person involved and write what each has at stake)
  • Will the lie hurt who told it? Why? How?

Do this brainstorming throughout the writing of your work in progress. Play with character secrets and lies. What they uncover may surprise not only your characters, but you!

creative writing ideas for character

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creative writing ideas for character

March 23, 2012 at 8:40 am

great as always, Kathy!

creative writing ideas for character

March 23, 2012 at 8:44 am

thanks Bobbi 🙂

creative writing ideas for character

October 20, 2015 at 4:05 am

Great advice! It is helping me with my current GCSE’s and I’m doing great! Thanks Kathy

creative writing ideas for character

October 11, 2017 at 1:23 am

OMG u guys are life savers thx for helping me with homework ? thx so much.i own u big time

Revision Checklist for Compelling Characters - How To Write Shop

April 25, 2018 at 4:32 pm

[…] Give your character a secret and don’t reveal it to the reader immediately. A secret will keep your reader interested, but also serve as constant conflict for your character. If her secret is something she’s experienced in the past, it gives her a struggle with past fear in the present-day story. If it’s something she’s done in the past that haunts her, she won’t want anyone in the story to find it out and will go to great pains to keep it under wraps. Of course, you will be sure to reveal at some point in the story, at the worst possible time and place for your character. […]

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GameRant

Dungeons & Dragons: Tips For Creating A Character

  • Use online tools like DnD Beyond to streamline the character-making process and save time and stress.
  • Consider playing a pre-rolled character from websites like Drive-Thru RPG for a balanced and ready-to-play option.
  • Try randomly generating a character with sites like DnD Beyond for a unique backstory and motive, and make adjustments to refine it.

Dungeons and Dragons is one of the deepest and most expansive games in existence, and that level of depth and possibility can often feel overwhelming. Sometimes, when there are seemingly limitless options, it can be much harder to make decisions than if there were fewer, more streamlined choices since imagination brings it all together in Dungeons & Dragons .

Dungeons & Dragons: 14 Tips For Writing Your Own Campaign

Character creation is one of the elements in the game that most exemplifies these aspects, with it being made even tougher by the fact that it's the first thing players have to do, they may not have a DM guiding them , and the fact that they will be committed to what they make for a potentially long time. Luckily, this process can be as simple or as intricate as a player wants it to be.

Use Online Tools

Sites like dnd beyond streamline the entire character-making process.

Immediately, before players start concocting their new hero, they should explore the massive surplus of sites and apps they have available to them. Websites like D&D Beyond and apps like the official Wizards of the Coast 5E app make the hardest parts of character creating a breeze.

Players will still have to decide their race, class, and personality, but all the dice rolling and number crunching will be done for them, saving a ton of stress and time.

Play A Pre-Rolled Character

There are hundreds of deep, balanced, or hilarious characters to choose from.

If the player is way more interested in the role-playing part of the game, there is nothing wrong with just using a finished character. Websites like Drive-Thru RPG and the official D&D site have plenty of character sheets available to download.

These are typically well-balanced and ready to play immediately. Plus, many of them are editable, so if a player wants to make any changes big or small they can adjust it, instantly making it more specific to their own play-style.

Randomly Generate A Character

Play with a wild & random character based on chance.

If a player has played a multitude of campaigns and can't decide on what character they want to try next, they can let fate decide. There are sites like DnD Beyond that have impressive random character generators.

These will produce a balanced character ability-wise, but will also create a backstory and motive for them. Then, the player can make adjustments to refine the character, or just generate more until one inspires them.

Play To The Character's Class And Abilities

Make stat choices influenced by a character's personality.

Every race and class comes with lore to read that can be used as a jumping-off point or can be used in full. If a player is stuck on how they want to play their character, but they have a race, class, or style they know they want to focus on mechanically, they can work backward to find their personality or backstory.

D&D: 8 Fun One-Shot Ideas

For example, if playing a cleric sounds interesting, the player can look over their support and healing spells and then just think of what type of person (or being) would know these things or want to use them. Maybe this character was some sort of doctor before heading out on this next quest.

Try A Classic Subversion

Opposites & irony make a great character foundation.

If playing a Stoic adventurer or trope-heavy warrior doesn't seem fun or unique enough, players can always hone in on something classic and then subvert the expectations of it. This could mean playing as a barbarian or warrior who is terrified and conflict-averse despite their power, or a rogue who is obsessed with stealing, but not when it comes to valuables like gold coins.

Taking something recognizable and spinning it in a new direction is fun for the rest of the party, and gives the player an easy route when trying to figure out what they should be doing. Bonus points if they can manage to lean into the tropes up until the moment the subversion is revealed.

Copy A Beloved Character

Characters from other franchises are great blueprints.

A fun route can be for the player to choose one of their favorite characters from a different piece of media and then base their character on them. Tons of movie and video game characters would still be excellent if transferred into a fantasy story, like Snake Plisken from Escape From New York or Nathan Drake from Uncharted.

Best Dungeons & Dragons Campaigns For Beginners

Players just need to change the name and adapt it to fit the setting of their campaign. As the sessions pick up, the character will naturally change and become more unique, keeping it from being too predictable or getting pigeonholed.

Add Skill & Backstory To A New Character

A unique way to build a character is to choose what job they had before the campaign. Players can think of a fantasy job they think is interesting or pick a real-life job they'd love to translate into the world of their campaign.

Then, players just need to figure out why their character was fired, or why they want to try something new, and they have something their character is an expert on, has been doing until the quest, and something they have a strong emotional reaction towards.

Play What You Know

Becoming a powerful version of one's self can be immersive & fun.

If playing a complex fictional character seems too daunting, players can insert themselves into the narrative. They can go through a character-building site or app and choose what they feel best translates their own personality into this fantasy world. Then, they can make all their decisions as they would in real life.

The simple spin on this is to play the opposite. Players can take the same ideology only to make and play the closest to the opposite of themselves that they are capable of, to enter a different mindset from themselves and do a 180 on each decision.

Don't Overwrite The Character's Backstory

A blank & clean slate helps to not confuse the character's narrative direction.

An easy mistake players often make when creating a new character is thinking they need a complex, interesting, funny, or dramatic history for their character. This takes a lot of extra thought and can sometimes conflict with the story that the Dungeon Master is hard at work preparing.

Life-changing events can happen at nearly any time in a D&D campaign . Coming in with a character that is new to adventuring or seems generic on the surface often works out fine as the player and the DM can then work together to find their motivations, personality traits, and quirks as they grow during the campaign.

Come Up With Flaws

Flaws add layers to a character.

The most well-rounded characters in any medium are defined by their flaws as much as their strengths. A crucial flaw can be used as much or as little as a player wants or needs.

Players can come up with a weird or specific quirk that will be noticeable but not constantly irritating to the table, or come up with fears or things their character has never succeeded at. Then, players can think about why or how their character got these traits and, instantly, they have a backstory as well as a recurring role-playing focus to keep them engaged with their character.

Dungeons and Dragons

Original Release Date 1974-00-00

Publisher Wizards of the Coast

Designer Dave Arneson, E. Gary Gygax

Dungeons & Dragons: Tips For Creating A Character

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    1. Play 'head, shoulders, knees and toes' As children, many English speakers learn the song 'head, shoulders knees and toes'. Yet as adults, when we introduce characters we often stop at 'head'. Beginners' character descriptions often read something like this: 'Jemima had short brown hair and violet eyes.'

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