Using Writing Prompts to Develop Characters

Using Writing Prompts to Develop

Every novelist does research.

Whether it’s for historical fiction, science fiction, or any other type of fiction–research is essential. We focus on methods of plot development so that our stories move forward in an engaging, believable way–but what about our characters?

But how do we research our characters?

You may already have a character type in mind: swashbuckling lady pirate with an affinity for botany who uses her knowledge of plants to heal her crew members’ various illnesses. The research element would lead you to explore (1) pirates, (2) female pirates, (3) botany, (4) apothecaries, (5) potion making, (6) ancient medicines, (7) ships, (8) etc. Your lady pirate would not get very far without such extensive and focused research.

But what about character development?

Question; How, exactly, does one research a character’s DEVELOPMENT?


Writing takes time (duh) and effort (double duh), and you wouldn’t be here working on your WIP if you weren’t in it for the long haul. After many hours of researching and typing (and retyping), you’re still here, ready to make your WIP better than ever. A part of that improvement includes shaping your characters into their best (and worst) selves, and that shaping takes place by putting your characters in various situations and watching them squirm their way out.

This is where writing prompts come in.

There are a number of resources on the web (several linked below) that help you to understand your characters by asking questions for you, the writer, to answer. Other resources, which are more general in their inspirational capacities, can be applied directly to a character (like a picture or a single word that sparks an idea).

Writers write. A lot of the time, we write more than what the manuscript shows–and that’s the way it should be. The writer will always know more than the reader, so it makes sense that we have scenes and chapters that are relatively unseen by the general population. As such, don’t hesitate to write scenes featuring your character that may not, otherwise, directly affect the WIP. These writing exercises may not increase your overall word count, but it will increase your overall understanding of the characters you love.

From Lady Vivien:

  • Assignment: Write your character’s backstory. Create a timeline, from birth to death, and fill in the milestones. The timeline should be especially detailed where it counts, both in the character’s past and during the novel. What did you learn? What follow-up will you need to do for the WIP?
  •  Questions:
    • What scenario can you put your character in that he/she wouldn’t expect?
    • Lock your character in a room/broom closet/cage with a character he/she despises. What are the circumstances? What happens? How do they interact?
    • How would your character behave if he/she lived in another time period? (This can be a situation where the character was born in another time or you can have them move through time–as a matter of fact, WRITE BOTH SCENARIOS.)
    • If your character could read/has read Harry Potter, who would his/her favorite character be? Why?
    • What is the worst thing that could happen to your character? MAKE IT HAPPEN TO THEM.
    • How much would your character change if his/her appearance changed? What about a race change? Age change? Gender change? (I have gender-swapped a character PERMANENTLY because of this writing exercise.) What about a role change (e.g. a hero becomes a villain, a sidekick becomes a hero, a mentor becomes a villain, etc.)?
    • What is the worst thing that your character has done? Why was it done? What was the end result? Does it still haunt your character? How does this haunting manifest?
  • Visit my Writing board on Pinterest

From the Web:

From Other Sources:

  • If you use Scrivener, make sure you take advantage of their Character Sketch Template. You can include facts, details, backstory, and a picture (face claim). If you need a great how-to for this feature, The Write Practice has got you covered.
  • Remember my post about these cool writing tools: Songza and Name Dice (free on both iTunes and Google Play)? Use one (or both) when working on the above writing prompts.

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