Writing Exercise #4: Character

WRITING_EXERCISE2

This is part of a series of exercises aimed to improve specific aspects of your writing.

Writers are often so hung up on writing an original story that they forget the supreme importance of solid characters. All the clever plot devices, elaborate world building, and new takes on old tales are nothing without great characters with which the reader can connect.

An ability to relate, to understand the emotions and core motivations behind the protagonist and supporting cast is what brings the reader in. It’s what keeps them coming back. Bring your characters to life and your readers will care. They’ll worry for them, love them, hate them, and yearn to know more.

I’ve written about character sketches before, acknowledging their importance for both deeper understanding of a character and quick reference for their traits and description. I did not complete thorough sketches when I started Father’s Creed, because I honestly didn’t know these people yet. I had to develop them as they moved about their world. Only as they interacted with one another and confront obstacles was I able to truly learn who they were.

Once they were created, it seemed like character sketches were both unnecessary and a waste of time, but I was wrong.

In listing what should go in the full sketch for this post, I was forced to question my own characters, realizing there was more to discover. Whether you’ve yet to begin or are in the third draft, a solid character sketch can and will help you create stronger and believable characters.

The exercise:

Do a full character sketch, including:

Name
Occupation
Physical description
Background
Goals
Motivations
Purpose
Fears
Flaws
Interests
Quirks
Desires
Failures
Suffering
Growth

Example:

To build on the material created for Exercise #2, I’ll use my protagonist.

Name

Barro Chipstone

Occupation

Chef at Findel Castle

Physical Description

26, 5’6, average weight with the beginnings of a belly, dirty-blond short hair, clean shave, green eyes, “peasant” attire, but tailored (brown slacks, white shirt, orange vest, brown jacket, floppy brown cap)

Background

Mother and father both worked in lord’s castle. No brothers and sisters. Began working in kitchen at 6, mostly cleaning dishes. After a visit from the king (Barro was age 10), the king enjoyed his meal so much he took Mrs. Chipstone away with him to work in the royal kitchen. They never saw her again. Mr. Chipstone died 10 years later. Barro worked his way up in kitchen while falling in love with one of the maids of the castle, Laura.

They were not openly allowed to marry and continued their romance in secret from lord and staff. Then when Lord Findel took over rule of Randgren, staff was cut, (Barro stayed on, Laura was fired.) They moved into her parents’ house and argued all the time. Without notice, Laura left Barro (two years before the story begins). He is only just now stable, even optimistic, though not quite happy.

Goals

He would like to reconnect with his wife. Though they argued, he misses her and is unhappy without her. He wants to be as good a chef as his mother and father were, for himself over any lord’s opinion.

Motivations

The memory of his parents, how happy they were and how good they were at what they did, and how that joy was taken away when royalty separated them.

Purpose

Though timid at the start, Barro brings a willingness to overcome tragedy combined with wit and problem solving. He leads the group through their journey and brings emotion to the reader.

Fears

Leaving the village, being fired, question authority/disrespect lords, abandonment/being alone, fighting/confrontation

Flaws

Trust issues, bad liar, correcting people, need for order

Interests

Cooking, knives, order/cleanliness, reading, flickball, horses, wife, friends

Quirks

Cleans as he talks, corrects people, goes quiet when confronted

Desires

Curvy women, expensive plateware and cutlery, confidence

Failures

Could not keep or regain his wife, never won in sports, could not stand up to lords. Forward in story: will not convince king or soldiers to help, will be humiliated by Traive Findel, will not be able to save his wife

Suffering

Loneliness, timidity, fear
Forward in story: will see his wife die

Growth

Will become more confident, willing to take bold action, find happiness in his friends

Notes:

This is not always easy to do, especially when you don’t yet know the story that will unfold around each character. It’s important for everyone to have flaws, fears, quirks, and desires.

These things too help the reader connect, as we find it difficult to relate or even like people that appear perfect. We may emulate and adore them to some degree, but secretly we want to see them crack and fall.

For your hero to have growth, they must overcome vices and faults and fears, and even then they should never win completely. They must suffer and scar, but they must also feel accomplished or at least achieve their purpose, even if they never reach their goals.

Now I’ll use this character sketch to flesh out Barro in my WIP. This foundation I’ve created will help me set him on his journey and understand why he is both afraid to begin, but also why he must.

All the best to you. Happy writing. Come back for more exercises, and please Subscribe and follow.

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