Hey boys and girls.
Firstly, let me apologise for the lack of an August Writer’s Academy. I assure you, it was a one-off due to several of the Writer’s Workshop mods being away at the same time... Just that time of year, you know how it is.
Anyway, with that out of the way, let me move on to the good news. A new Writer’s Academy article! This time we’re doing character building! As I’m sure you’re aware, characters are a central part of a story, but a trouble we all have (I know I do) is making your characters come to life, and actually exist off the page.
A trap that’s really easy to get caught in is for it to be impossible for your character to exist outside of the confines of your story. For example, what did your character do before the beginning of the story? What did they do after? If there are time skips, what did they do for fun during that time? I mean, surely they weren’t literally training the entire time? They must have at least kicked a football around or gone swimming or something, right?
I read an exercise in a book that’s a massive help with this. The book’s called The five-minute writer, and it’s by Margret Geraghty. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in any kind of professional creative writing or even anyone who just wants to improve their writing. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find a copy of this particular exercise online. Here it is: How To Plump Up ‘thin’ Characters | The Five – Minute Writer | Writing | How To | Read Free Online Books at How To
I often use this exercise when I’m unsure of whether my character exists in the real world or not, but it’s important not to use it so much that you know all of the questions off by heart. (Although that may be useful for creating characters in the first place.) The beauty of this exercise is that it asks you things about your characters that are completely irrelevant to the story, including some things which you might not have thought about, but are really important formative factors in real human beings. I don’t want to ruin the exercise before you do it, but have you ever thought about whether your character prefers their sandwiches in triangles or rectangles? Do they prefer to write with a pen or a pencil?
I thought it might be fun if we all chose a character, whether it be one from an ongoing story here or not, put them through this exercise, and post the results here! (I think it’s a more useful exercise solo than it is as a group exercise, but you might want to try that too, I guess.) Remember! If you choose not to answer one of the questions, you need to be seriously considering why not. Each question you choose not to answer or to answer in a particularly unhelpful way makes your character less relatable and human.
Another trick that I use is to write a ‘drabble’ or a one shot about the character that is completely removed from the rest of the story. This helps me to understand them as a person, how they act in their day to day life when they aren’t under the stresses that the storyline is putting on them. (If you want to do and share this, it’s probably best to post it as a one shot, and post a link to it here.)
I always say that the words on the page are just the tip of the iceberg, you have to know 1000 times more about your world and characters than literally comes out on the page.
1) Try out Margret Geraghty’s exercise, and post the results!
2) What do you think of the exercise? Like it? Problems with it? Why?
3) What do you think of the drabble/one shot technique?
4) What are your own techniques for making rounded, believable characters?