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Six Fiction Writing Prompts for Characters

The Telegraph

In fiction writing, there's no plot without the players, and believable characters can make or break a story. Using fiction writing prompts really beefs up characters.

Try and remember some really great fictional characters from favorite books. Does Holden Caulfield really stand out? What about Jay Gatsby? A well-constructed, believable character is the driving force behind any great story, and with some work, devoted writers can create great characters.

Writing Prompt 1: Outline a Character

Make a list of characteristics: name, age, gender, eye color, height, weight, pets, medical conditions, pet peeves, passions, frustrations, etc. Write as many characteristics as possible, even ones that seem mundane; the mundane little things add an element of realism to fictional characters. Apply this outline to a few characters, and see if anything interesting is revealed.

This is the easiest way to create, or develop, a character. It’s very basic, extremely simple, and can be unbelievably helpful.

Writing Prompt 2: Be a Visual Stalker

Go and sit in a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop for a while. If possible, go to an airport. Watch and describe the people who are sitting and walking around. Get very descriptive in the writing, explaining what they are wearing, how they wear their hair, what their features look like.

Now, go a bit beyond. If someone’s wearing headphones, what is she listening to? Is she learning Spanish on tape, listening to romantic classical music, or maybe listening to a lecture from MIT? What is she thinking about, and where is she going? This is the type of exercise that can quickly and easily morph into a full-blown story.

Writing Prompt 3: People Meshing

This one’s fun: pick a few people you know and merge them into a fictional character. Merge their bodily features, combine aspects of their personalities (maybe a tendency to be overly angry when standing in lines), and mix and match family members to create a single person. Think of speech mannerisms, nervous tics, and favorite hangout spots.

Don’t force elements together. If one doesn’t seem to fit properly, change it. For instance, if the character gets overly angry while standing in lines, he’s probably not usually a patient person. Mixing and matching has its limits.

Writing Prompt 4: Communication!

Using a character from an above exercise, or perhaps an existing one, take some time to examine some of his or her means of communication. As the character, write a letter addressed to an ex-husband, or maybe a complaint letter addressed to her lawn service. How does she get her points out?

How about a phone call? Listen in on a character’s discussion with her mother. Do they argue? Are there big tension points? For further character exploits, have her writing casual and business emails, and maybe even a writing an apology to someone she doesn’t really want to apologize to.

Writing Prompt 5: And Then They Meet…

This should be a fun exercise. If a few characters have been created, have two of them meet. Think of all sorts of meeting places: an auction house, an empty bar, a grocery store, etc. Maybe they meet at a pet store, where they are both counting the dead fish in the tanks. Perhaps they are preparing to be interviewed for the same job, and they’re sitting in the lobby.

This should be a dialogue-heavy exercise, where the characters can really grow into their language.

Writing Prompt 6: Danger, Danger!

Situational conflict scenes can be challenging, especially for newer creative writers. Take one of these characters and put him in an ugly situation. Perhaps while waiting for the subway, he sees a little girl get stuck between the train and the platform. The mother is stunned and confused. How does the character react to seeing this?

Put the character in handcuffs, being arrested for a violent crime he didn’t commit. Stay in that first moment, when he’s being arrested, and get in his head. Is he angry? Frightened? How does he interact with the officers? Does he cooperate?

Once again, have fun with these prompts, and don’t force them to go on longer than they do naturally.