'Ello, Kitsune here. As many of you know, I'm currently working on a novel that is taking over my life. Recently, I've been having trouble keeping the personalities of my characters (who have changed a lot over the near eight years that I've been working on my novel) completely straight. I know my main character well enough, since the story follows her life closely, but sometimes I feel like I don't know everyone else in my world enough.
I'm sure you've all seen the character profiles before. (Name, age, height, physical description, likes, dislikes, etc.) I have filled out more of those than I care to admit, but they very seldom help. Therefore, I came up with this "OC Exercise" to help you get to know your characters better. The best part is, it will even get you some writing practice!
I highly suggest posting your finished products on deviantart and requesting a critique. This will not only help with your actual writing, but it might also help weed out those pesky mary-sue/gary-stu traits that ruin your great characters! This exercise can be used for main characters as well. Any original character, really.
Exercise: Pick a character and write a full scene for each scenario. Write the scene from first person (Me, myself, and I) or third limited (He, she, they). Try to show as much of the character's personality as you can, but do it through actions, not just dialogue! You do not have to do all of these, by any means. Scan through and pick a few you like! I provided as many as possible to allow for a wide range of choices.
- In a fight. Whether your character is a skilled swordsman in medieval times or a high school girl that is arguing with her friend, write out a scene that involves an obvious conflict and show how your character handles it. Remember, everything from the skill of the fighter, the words spoken, and even their body language is important. Do your character's hands get cold and clammy when confronted? Or does their blood boil with the prospect of a good fight? Also, try to remember that not everybody is angry when they are in a fight. Some people like it! (Further down, you will find an option for "angry." Try to make these two different!)
- Relaxing at home. Whether "home" is a two bedroom apartment with fresh paint or a cave that your characters come across in their travels to a distant land, write about your character relaxing. Do they spend their time cleaning their weapons, or do they pig out on everything in the fridge? What about things like books and video games? Perhaps they listen to music? What things calm them down and allow them to have a good time?
- Spending time with a friend. Maybe your character is hanging out at their best buddy's house, or perhaps the only thing they have to call their friend is the stray cat that follows them around. How do they interact with their friends? Create a scene where your character goes out and does something with their friend(s). Do they get annoyed by how loud their buddy is? Or do they maybe feel awkward because they secretly have a crush on this best friend? Remember, body language is just as important as the words they speak!
- Sulking or upset. Something really irked your character. What was it? How do they react? This helps to know what sort of things really get under their skin and how they deal with their bad moods. Do they punch the nearest wall or cry into their pillow? Do they try to cheer themselves up or distract themselves from the pain, or do they just curl up in a corner and brood? What does it take to fix their mood, also? Would a pat on the back from a friend make it better, or do they need a gallon of ice cream and a soap opera marathon? (P.S. This is not for "scared" or "angry". Those are a bit further down.)
- Happy or excited. What puts a smile on your characters face like no other? For some people, all it takes is a quick glance of a pretty flower on the sidewalk. Sometimes it takes a whole lot more. Write a scenario where something just happened to make your character extremely happy. Maybe their parents just bought them a new car, or the love of their life just proposed. Perhaps they finally killed the evil overlord that ruined their life. How do they express their happiness? How do they share it with others? Do they grin with satisfaction or cry waterfalls of joy?
- Inebriated. (That means drunk, kiddies.) What happens when your character downs one too many beers? Or are they a sophisticated champagne drinker instead? Would they get drunk on their own, or did somebody spike their drink? Are they even of age? Do they fall out of their chair and admit their inner most feelings between burps and giggles, or do they go into a rage and demand revenge on the fool that knocked over their martini? Remember, the mind works in funny ways when you're drunk, so writing from this point of view allows for silliness and flexibility.
- Traveling. (If you character doesn't travel, use "thinking" instead.) Many stories include scenes of travel, whether it's from home to school or from one country to another. When you're traveling, there isn't much to do aside from think and occupy your mind. How does your character handle long trips? Are they very patient or the "arewethereyet" type? How does your character feel about the saddle sores he's getting from the long trek across the country? Or maybe the butt-cramp from the stupid seat of the jeep? Do they complain endlessly or engage in conversation? Do they read or play games? Most importantly, try to write about what is going through your character's mind.
- Afraid. What strikes fear in the heart of your character? Write out a scene where they are truly afraid. Maybe there is a horrendous storm and they are cowering at every boom of thunder (that would be me, in case you were wondering) or maybe they find themselves face to face with a hungry lion. What are their worst fears and phobias? How do they react to fear? What do they seek for comfort; do they climb under the covers and hide or run to their best friend? Fear is a powerful thing and can tell you a lot about a person.
- Birthday. Everybody has birthdays, so how does your character spend theirs? This is a fun way to include your other characters as well. Maybe they throw a surprise party for your character, or perhaps they all go out bowling. Does your character even remember it's their birthday? Do they spend it strutting around with a tiara and a fistful of balloons, or like Harry Potter, drawing a birthday cake in the sand so they can blow out the candles? Most importantly, how do they feel about this big change? Also, how do they feel about everybody else's reactions? Is the surprise party their greatest wish, or an annoying nightmare of unwanted social activity?
- In love. This is a very flexible one. You can most certainly use this to write out a romantic scene between your character and their love interest. However, not every character has a crush or significant other. Have fun with this! Maybe you could write about your character's love and lust for power over all. Perhaps you could write about their love for money, or the dream car that they drool over. Who or what makes your character's heart swell with positive emotions?
- Angry. Something really pissed off your character. Was it an everyday injustice of the world, or that idiot that swerved across three lanes and cut them off without even using their freakin blinker? Write a scene in which your character becomes very angry and then is calmed down. This not only shows what they are like when they are angry, but how they act when they are becoming angry, how fast it happens, and what it takes to calm them down again. For this one, they do not necessarily have to confront the source of their anger. (Try to make this different from "In a fight")
- Embarrassed. Nobody likes being embarrassed! (Or do they?) Write out a scene where something embarrasses your character. Maybe they slipped and fell in the school cafeteria, or perhaps they blurted out something stupid to their crush. How does your character handle it? Do they sit on the floor and cry, or do they go on like it never happened? Do their ears turn red and their hands start to shake? Maybe they even get angry and yell at anyone who notices. Remember to include what your character is thinking as well as the actions they take.
- Eating. Imagine your character out at a restaurant, bar, tavern, friend's house, what have you. How does it go? Do they scarf down everything on their plate, or pick at it? Do they shove those nasty green things to the other side, or dump them under the table for the dog to get? How does conversation go? What do they think of the encounter? Perhaps they are at a family dinner, or sitting down at a table for the first time after a long travel with nothing but hard bread and cheese.
- Dependent. Suggested by chimeranovel. Everyone has to depend on somebody at some point in their life. Some people are very dependent on others, while some hate having to trust another person with an outcome. What happens when your character has to depend on somebody? Maybe they have to depend on their partner in crime to pull off their grand scheme, or maybe they just broke their arm and need somebody to help them accomplish otherwise simple tasks. How does your character handle having to rely on others? (Also, see Injured)
- Competitive. Some people compete well and some people really don't. How does your character handle competition? Do they seek out somebody to compete against in everything they do, or do they dread the very idea of competing? How do they react when they win? What if they lose? What do they compete in? Maybe an art contest, a karate contest, or maybe they're competing for somebody's affections?
- Injured. Suggested by Rutana. Everyone knows being in pain is no fun, and it often changes how a person acts. What happens when your character gets injured? Do they push on despite the pain and refuse to acknowledge it until they pass out, or do they run around crying for a bandaid when they get a papercut? If it's long term pain such as a disease or something like arthritis, how does it change their personality? Are they crankier when they're in pain, or do they try to hide it? (Also, see Dependent.)
If you have any ideas for additional scenarios, or if you have feedback on an existing one, please let me know in the comments. If you use any of these, I would love to see what you write! So long as I have time, I will try to read everyone's.