Story Character Development

A running list of methods to discover or develop characters in stories, compiled from my experience and that of my fellow-writers all over the place:

  • Ask questions of your character, directly – and get a direct answer! (Want to know who’s great at this? Visit Kirsten’s blog – she talks to her characters and her Muse and shares the conversations. I love it! Here’s a recent conversation: Infinity Edge)
  • Mind map (cluster) with the character and his problem or situation at the center
  • Free-write – see what bubbles up
  • Daydream, but focused
  • Collect “scrapbook” stuff (physical or online) – pictures of people who look like your character, collections of things he likes, scenes that evoke the character’s “feel”
  • Move character to a new location, time, genre and see what happens
  • Believe he is real. Treat him as such. Attend to him. What’s there?
  • Start small, non-intrusively – would you ask a stranger to reveal secrets at first meeting?
  • Start writing the story – let the story draw your character out – no pressure to KEEP the writing.
  • Take the character out of his comfort zone (Shy? make him sing in front of others. Used to center stage? put him in a long line policed by pacing, barely contained armed guards)


I know! How about finding a magic lantern and asking a genii to help? Who knows what details will float in if you try that method!


Heaven knows I need this list. Characterization is my weakness (or at least ONE of my weaknesses). I have snippets of stories (categorized as “Fiction Going Nowhere) with characters called nothing more than “he” or “she.” Seriously they’re almost non-people, just carriers of Story. Sheesh!

I think that kind of thing won’t fly far in the long term, so… here I am, working at making better characters.

If you’re a writer, too, and interested in a much more detailed and informative take on characterization, I recommend Holly Lisle’s How to Create a Character Clinic. It’s to the point, filled with helpful exercises and… and it’s been far too long since I read it! I think that’s now on the top of my list! [scurries off to read it]

*** How about you? Do you have any tried and true tricks? Any character-revealing practices you rely on? Share them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!***


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2 thoughts on “Story Character Development

  1. Thanks for the mention, Wendy!
    Strangely, summoning my characters to the page comes fairly easily to me–it’s the plotting that drives me nuts! In light of that, my character discovery process is still evolving. A few months ago, for example, it dawned on me that my character can’t tell me how he would overcome the obstacles I place in his way, because of course he doesn’t have the skills the story will teach him yet. He needs to learn and grow from the situations, I, the Writer-God, place in his path. 🙂
    The more I learn about writing stories, the more I discover I don’t know yet!

    BTW, I’m enjoying your blog and your easy going approach very much! Put me down as a fan, okay?

    1. That’s an interesting point, Kirsten, about your character not having the skills the story will teach him. I’ve been thinking about the idea of putting out short stories related to novels and I kind of hit the same thing. If I write about the character BEFORE the main story of the novel… well, the interesting stuff hasn’t happened yet and that character is still the un-changed person who NEEDS the novel-story to happen. And if I set the short after the novel, then is that implying that the novel didn’t wrap things up nicely?

      Maybe the fundamental problem is that the novel isn’t finished 😀 … and maybe it’s testament to my lack of skill in creating characters that I don’t imagine them in off-shoot stories unrelated (or only cursorily related) to what they’ll go through in the novel.

      I kind of think that sort of tack isn’t going to work for me at this point. So much for using such short stories/novellas, etc., to generate interest in said novel(s)…

      So, I’ll just keep writing new things and see where that gets me.

      As long as it gets me something and Muse is happy, I’m pretty happy.

      And that I earned your praise = [happy dance].

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