Tag Archives: character

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Interview Your Character

In this second installment of Mots Justes’ Wednesday Writing Exercise, we’re going to share another character-development technique. Like last week’s post, this idea came from course instructor Emma Sweeney during a three-week summer graduate writing class at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge.

Interview your characters. Ask them ten questions. Capture their voices.

And don’t be afraid to get confrontational. Ask them why they are lying, if they are, and probe the things they are uncomfortable talking about or not being honest about.

When I first tried this exercise, I was working with a very familiar character, so I was pretty sure I knew how he would respond to my line of questioning. I picked a very specific topic I wanted to discuss with him—yet he led me down a completely different path! Apparently he wasn’t done dealing yet with issues I had left behind.

Try interviewing one of your characters, and let me know how it goes!

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Wednesday Writing Exercise: Character Development

Starting today, in a bid to give this blog more structure (I was named “most organized” by the class of ’94) and hopefully something for you to look forward to each week, Mots Justes is introducing a new regular feature: the Wednesday Writing Exercise. Every Wednesday we’ll be sharing a new prompt to take your writing to the next level or just help get you over the midweek hump.

To kick us off, here is an exercise introduced by our course instructor Emma Sweeney when I studied creative writing at Pembroke College in Cambridge for three weeks this summer.

I was working on an excerpt from a novel-in-progress for the class, so I was very familiar with my protagonist by the time we did this character-building exercise. Now that I’ve moved on to a new section with a new character I don’t know as well, I look forward to using this tool to get to know him better.

(By the way, this type of character building should not be confused with the kind for which my mother is known. She would justify making jokes at her daughters’ expense by claiming, “I’m just building your character!” We’re not building our own characters here but our character’s … er, character. p.s. Love you, Mom!)

All right, here we go. Think about your character. Picture him or her in your mind. Once you have an image of him or her, ask yourself—or, better yet, ask him or her—the following questions and write down what you learn:

1. What is in your character’s pockets?

2. What object would your character most hate to lose?

3. Picture your character’s hands and describe them. What does he or she use them for? What rituals are associated with his or her hands?

4. Picture your character’s hair. How does he or she wear it? How does he or she handle it or touch it?

5. What kind of shoes does your character wear?

6. How does your character dress and undress?

7. What does your character do first thing in the morning?

8. What does your character do last thing at night?

9. What are your character’s habits of speech? How does he or she talk?

10. What is your character’s motivation, ambition, or dream—what in screenwriting is called the character’s “dramatic need”?

11. What is your character’s stumbling block? What obstacles are preventing him or her from achieving his or her dramatic need?

If this exercise proves helpful to you, let us know what you learned about your character, and please share additional writing exercises you have found beneficial.

In the meantime, look for additional regular and semi-regular features in future posts.

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