Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Letters

As people grow and change, sometimes they wish they could be more like their younger self–be that because they miss the wonder they had in the world, or because they’ve lost their faith in people. Other times we wish we could get word from the future that things turn out all right. A popular way of expressing those wishes is in writing a letter to yourself–either past or future.

As an exercise: do just that. Write a letter to your character. Either to tell them about the things coming up in the future, or to remind them of the good stuff they came from. Perhaps you want to apologize to them for all the things they go through in the course of the story, or explain how you really feel about them.

Alternately, you can have your character complete the exercise. Think about things like if they’d want to write to their younger self, or to their future one. When writing to their younger self, consider the things they struggled to get through. When writing to the future version, what qualities do they admire in themselves currently?

Posted in Exercises

Characterization

There are three fundamental aspects that every single story has, regardless of good, bad, popular or unknown. Without those three pieces, you don’t have a story. They include plot, setting and characters. Those three elements are impossible to escape. Your characters are who the story is about, your plot is what happens during the story and your setting is where the story happens.

While I could delve into why it’s impossible to write a story without all three of those present, today I want to focus on characters. They’re often the main and central focus of the story for your readers. Making characters distinct for one another relies heavily on characterization.

Characterization itself is the distinct features each character has. This goes beyond just physical features and into personality traits and habitual quirks. These are your defining features that help your characters stand out from one another.

Speech is a huge place for characterization to come through. The way people talk often reflects the environment they’re most often surrounded by and were raised in. As an exercise, you can write down a list of common words with multiple synonyms (think car, soda, mother, etc) and determine which ones your characters would use. Would one of them use Mom while another uses Momma, or even Mother? Is it a vehicle or an auto?

Phrasing is important in speech as well. If you have someone who’s learned a second language, how they learned it will impact how they speak it. Someone who learned organically through immersion would have picked up more slang words and may still have some chunks missing from their vocabulary. Someone who learned through traditional schooling may have a more formal structure, but struggle with idioms and expressions.

As an exercise for phrasing, think about any idioms, expressions or sayings that might crop up. Think about how each character might use a variation of that central expression.

Habits are often linked to subconscious things that can tell us a lot about personalities. Someone who chews their nails might be very nervous or they can be bored. Similarly, someone who shuffles their feet a when walking might be less inclined to rush about to do things.

Even in the foods we dislike, some characters will try to mask the taste by mixing that food in, while others prefer to eat it first and get the worst over with. Still other characters will separate it from the other foods and try to avoid more than a few bites of it at all.

As an exercise, consider three subconscious habits your character might have. These are things they probably do without thinking. Does he wipe his feet before coming through a door? Does she do certain chores or tasks in a specific order? Do they have a specific reaction to being reprimanded? Will they only do certain things when they’re tired/hungry/scared?

Self-Expression covers how characters portray themselves. Someone who takes pride in their appearance might be vain, or they could be masking self-esteem problems. Similarly, someone who speaks their mind freely might be confident, or they may feel as if they have to constantly explain their thoughts and actions to avoid being judged.

Because self-expression is so easily varied, it might help for you to consider how your characters express themselves and why they do in a particular way. Examine things like how they dress, how much work they put into keeping their spaces (include housing, vehicles and work areas) tidy, how often they speak up and what sort of hobbies they enjoy outside of their work or job.

Posted in Exercises, writing

Exercise: My Hero Would Be…

One of the most well-known topics for school essays is to pick someone you consider a hero or an idol. The topic itself is pretty simple and straight forward, but it can also help you develop your characters.

As an exercise try writing a paragraph or a page on who your character would consider an idol. Consider what makes them a hero to your character. What positive values makes them appeal to your character? Also consider in what ways your character relates to and acts like their hero.

Posted in writing

Using Myers Briggs for Characters

One of the hardest parts about building a character is sometimes getting their personality down. Although you could sit down and hammer out every single trait–loyalty versus selfishness, naivete versus worldly experience, et cetera–there are a lot of different traits that go into a human personality.

The other way way might be to look at their Myers Briggs personality type. As simple as it sounds, the sixteen types of personalities identifed by the Myers Brigs system provides a detailed base to work off for characters who need a little more fleshing out. It’s important to note that no one type of personality is superior to any other, nor does having a particular personality type make a character or person immediately qualified for a particular roles. People with ENTJ and INTJ personalities might have qualities that make them drawn towards leadership roles, but leadership requires development of skills outside of the personality itself.

The Myers Briggs system works based on four categories: Extraversion versus Introversion, Sensing versus Intiution, Thinking versus Feeling and Judging versus Perceiving. Each of these correlates to how you think and where your energies are focused.

Extraversion vs. Introversion: Extroverts are the people who gain energy from being around and interacting with others. Introverts however, gain energy from quiet reflection and quiet activities. These are different ways of expression energy and both discharging it and renewing it. Extroverts lose energy when alone and need socialization to recharge. Introverts lose energy by socializing and need time for reflection and processing. Within the Myers Briggs, this first category is marked by an E for the extrovert, and an I for the introvert.

Sensing vs. Intuition: Collecting information is something we do every day. Sensors however, focus on the details of the information and gather information directly from the external world. Intuitives look for patterns and context, relying on internal judgement to fill in missing information. Neither way is wrong, merely different from the other. Sensors are represented by an S while intuitives use N to prevent confusion with the above introverts.

Thinking vs. Feeling: Everyday situations need choices, regardless of  what the situation is. Thinkers respond to choices based on logic and reasoning. Feelers make those same choices based on their emotions. This can also apply to reactions: does your character spring for the immediately logical and deal with the emotional fall out later, or does your character’s emotional state rule how they react at any given moment? Thinkers are denoted by a T while feelers use F.

Judging vs. Perceiving: Judging and perceiving deal with organizing information. Judges organize things by rules and repeated patterns. Perceivers however, are open to improvisation and flexibility. Judges may be more reliant on experience to help sort their thoughts while perceivers may go on a base-by-case basis. As with the others, judges recieve a J while percievers have a P.

Each of the sixteen types recognized by the Myers Briggs system is denoted by a four letter notation: INTJ, ENFP, ESTP, ISFJ and so on and so fourth. Often these correlate to profiles, which, for building and developing a character, can give you a good sense of what’s happening in their head. If you need to, take a Myers Briggs personality test based on how your character would respond to the questions. Don’t be surprised if there’s some variation either: these categories aren’t polar opposites, but a spectrum.

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: First Meeting

When it comes to developing characters, one of the things you might have to look at is how they interact with each other. A lot of interactions between people are based on previous interactions, which goes all the way back to when they first met.

Knowing how your characters met each other can help with more than just setting the tone of their relationship. They can also help you find hidden interpersonal conflicts and gives you a good base point of reference for how the relationship changes both in and out of the story as time goes  by.

As an exercise: Set a timer for ten to fifteen minutes and free write the first meeting between:

  • Protagonist and Antagonist
  • Characters and Love Interests
  • Protagonist and Supporting Characters
  • Antagonist and Supporting Characters