How can I easily create interesting characters for my writing projects?

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Answered by: Matthew, An Expert in the Craft, Technique and Development Category
Creating deep, fascinating characters is sometimes one of the simplest aspects of writing, whether it be for novelized fiction, screenplays, theater scripts, or video game productions. There are times when the stars seem to align and everything falls into the right place. Then there are times when you simply don't know who to write about. For these occasions many writers attempt to draw inspiration by going out and observing people at a shopping mall or social function. Some choose to read books or watch movies in an effort to spark their imagination. There is another option you can use to create interesting characters, however, that you can do from home and doesn't involve looking to your peers for help.

This exercise is all about altering your state of mind from that of the "Omniscient Writer" to something more journalistic. Instead of forcing inspiration upon the page by consciously controlling every detail of the character's development try taking a moment to meet someone new. Go on a journey in your mind and see who is there to greet you.

All you'll need for this character creation exercise is a pencil and some paper or a blank word processor file. Once you are set up in whatever environment best suits your creativity, imagine that you are a journalist on your way to interview someone you intend to do a story on. Next, picture yourself in the location you are supposed to have this meeting at. You might be traveling down an urban sidewalk or trekking a mountain pass. After a short amount of time you can begin to make out a figure in the distance. Start writing the broad, general details of what you are observing as the character moves toward you or you draw closer to it. Soon you'll start seeing more detailed specifics about what the character looks like and their reactions to your presence. Finally, start up a conversation with the individual and ask them any sort of questions you'd like. Write down your questions as you ask them and record their answers.

By the time you are finished you should have gathered enough information to write something akin to an interview piece on them. You can if you like but the best advice would be to avoid that temptation. That information you gathered might have come from your subconscious but it is not strictly yours. The next step in this exercise, then, should be to take ownership of this person you have met in your imagination.

Put your fiction writer hat back on and flesh this character out. You can accomplish this by writing a short story, piecing together a plot bunny, or just by adding your own thoughts and creativity to a character profile. This process allows you to assimilate the individual back into your subconscious where a truly exciting moment is about to occur. That moment is one of clarity and satisfaction as this newly minted character finds a place in one of the myriad stories raging through your creative mind. From there, as they say, it is all smooth sailing.

This exercise does take practice to master, so don't become frustrated if your first go at it doesn't yield inspiring results. You will eventually develop your own style with this method as you add your own voice to it and make adjustments to the formula. Taking this objective approach can help you create interesting characters in a pinch to fit a deadline or give you something to do on a lazy afternoon. Even better, you might end up with more fascinating characters in your notebook then you know what to do with.

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