How to get started with Character Development

Often at the beginning, we have a mere feeling about the main character whose story we want to tell. In this situation you want to act with an open mind. You don’t know yet what will be important about your character, you cannot know it because you just got to know her.

Allow as many ideas to flow through your mind as you possibly can. Don’t limit yourself to what your character “must” have or what she “should” be like. Just let her be the person she is.

A way to open up the floodgates of the unconscious is to force your imagination to focus on a certain moment and point in time. The name of this game is:


– Imagine your main character coming home after a long day at work.

– What is she doing? How does she move?
Is she assertive? Hesitant? Did she expect something in particular coming home? Does she find it? What is it?

– What is her home like? Is it her home? Does she feel at home here? Or is the place dominated by someone else’s taste?

– Walk with her through the house/apartment/R.V to the bedroom

– A photo hangs on the wall.

 – The photo shows something that is very important to the main character.

– Who or what is in the photo?

– What does the photo mean to her? Is it a reminder of a nice memory, a sweep moment? Or does it cause pain?

– What role does the person/object play in the life of the main character?

An example

Have a look at what Janice B., one of my students, came up with when we played this game a few months ago in a writers group:

(Thank you, Janice, for allowing me to post your wonderful idea here.)

Let’s say our heroine is in her early forties. A made woman. Expensive clothes. A swanky high-rise apartment, exceptional amenities, dim lighting, and exquisite jazz come on as she enters, and a precious little appliance prepares the perfect whiskey sour with a gentle whirr.

She carelessly tosses her $2,000 business attire on the floor, a chair while walking through this dream apartment. Someone will pick up the stuff, someone she pays to do it. She’s had a rough day. Actually, the last 1,500 days have been pretty tough. The hardest of her life so far. Her $10,000 waterbed sits enthroned in the center of the bedroom, overlooking the best part of one of the best cities in the world. A stretch of bay, a view of Alcatraz to the left and the Golden Gate to the right, the lights are just beginning to come on as the national park in the background sinks into the majestic blue of an unreal beautiful sunset.

Our heroine downs half the whiskey, then pauses, looks at a picture, a framed photo, an old, yellowed, cheap print, slightly smudged, the colors have shifted to turquoise green. The picture shows a man in his fifties, a hard, pained face, the hunched posture of a man who has spent his life in degrading physical labor and has ruined his health. She raises a glass and toasts the picture: “I did what you expected me to do, I hope I made you proud. I’ve gone all the way to the top… Yesterday they made me CFO of the company…” She puts on a simple black dress made of rough fabric, “…and now it’s time for me to finally make my dream come true. Tomorrow I’m going to the convent as a novice. Cheers, dad.”

Janice B. – Writers Group summer 2021

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