Planning characters

One way to characterize is for your character to make a plan. The kind of plan the character makes, the level of formality with which it is made, how the character responds when things go according to their plan, how they respond when things do not, what they do when their plan is criticized, who they share their plan with, how their setting influences their plan, how they think about and enact it, and how they revise it, all these things characterize. They also provide a plot.

The plan does not have to be to destroy or save the world. It could be to cross a room for a drink of water, but it ought to be important to your character for reasons your reader can understand.

Try drafting one.

Characterization and work

This exercise has its roots in Benjamin Percy’s excellent Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, specifically the “Get a Job” chapter.

Characterize by writing about the character’s job. Address at least the following prompts:

  • How did the character get the job?
  • How does the setting/dress of the character change as a result of it?
  • Describe the character’s relationships with at least three people at work.
  • Describe/contrast these relationships with at least three people not at work.
  • How does the job change/shape/impact the non-job relationships?
  • Given this job, what point of view makes sense? How is the character likely to see the world?
  • List three metaphors this character would use.
  • What new language/jargon/jokes does the character learn as a result of the job?

Ways of getting started

“You might address the letter to your children, if you have a few lying around, or to a niece or nephew, or to a friend. Write that person’s name at the top of the page, and then in your first line, explain that you are going to tell them part of your story, entrust it to them, because this part of your life meant so much to you.”

from “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott