Lesson Plan: Character Development

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First off, quick update on the revision process. It’s been slow. But steady. But slow.

So. Frustratingly. Slow.

I’m about a quarter of the way through, I think. It’s a little hard to judge, because I’ve added almost 6,000 words through the process of rewriting and adding new scenes. I’d hoped to finish it by the end of this month, but that’s not going to happen. Now I’m aiming for the end of next month. NaNoWriMo (the BIG one) is coming up in November, and I really want to be able to spend October finalizing my outline for the second book in the Abernathy Brothers series so I can knock out the first draft during writing month.

It worked for me in July, after all. 🙂

My current writing activities are not all revisions, however. I’ve been reading articles, following blogs, and of course reading novels. One of the things I keep coming back to is Character. If I could become a master at any one writing skill, I would choose Character Creation. Not only because FUN, but because I think great, relatable, flawed, believable characters are what make books successful.

But how does one learn how to create people better? I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I know how I’ve learned just about everything else in life: study and practice! And for me, specifically, very organized and regimented study and practice. I believe I’ve spoken before of my love for lists and goals? I went on a scavenger hunt for what I thought were the best exercises to developing characters on the web and listed them below, along with the sources from where I pulled them. Then I created actionable goals around the material. They’re simple, but I find it helpful to have a clear end point.

Character Development 101


  1. Create 5 fully fleshed out protagonists that are unique from each other, hold different beliefs from myself, and have the potential for a full character arc
    1. Complete all exercises listed for each protagonist
  2. Create 5 full fleshed out antagonists that are unique from each other (may or may not be suitable adversaries to the above 5 protagonists)
    1. Complete all exercises listed for each antagonist
  3. Create 5 side characters that feel real despite not having their own arcs
    1. Complete at least 3 of the exercises listed for each
  4. Read all resources listed (see below)


  1. Practice writing “loglines” for each character. 140 characters for each, that summarize them. (Terrible Minds)
    • Write one before doing the below exercises, then another after exploring more in depth.
  2. Write character backstories (minimum of 1000 words each) starting from birth and leading up to the point where the story starts. (Writing Forward)
  3. Create psychological profiles for characters (Writing Forward)
    1. What is his greatest fear?
    2. What trauma has he experienced and how did it shape his personality?
    3. Psychological disorders or conditions?
    4. What does he want most and why? External and Internal goals. Do they contradict?
    5. What’s at stake for him?
    6. If not the protagonist, what is his purpose to the story? (one sentence)
  4. Write 2 scenes of conflict for each character (minimum of 1500 words per scene) that show him both overcoming a conflict, and being defeated by a conflict. (Writing Forward)
  5. Create a character journal for each character and write a few entries in their voice about his or her daily life. (Writing Forward)
    1. Include a normal activity. Like laundry, grocery shopping, making the bed, vacuuming, making lunch, checking email, etc. (Lit Reactor)
  6. Adopt the mindset of the character and create a theoretical social media account (Lit Reactor)
    1. What would they put on their pinterest board?
    2. How would they fill out an online dating form?
    3. Would they have a website? About what?
    4. What’s their favorite porn?
  7. Write a letter from the character to a loved one, or from a loved one to my character. (Lit Reactor)
    1. Afterwards, describe one situation in which they could be moved to betray the one they love. What are the limitations of their loyalty?
  8. Write a short scene for each character interacting with different people, to show how they behave differently. (Writing Exercises)
    1. Mother
    2. Boss
    3. Friend
    4. Neighbor
    5. Lover
    6. Service person
    7. Co-worker
  9. Make the character confess their deepest darkest secret to their partner or a friend. Something they haven’t told anyone. Could be huge (I’m an alien) or small (I stole a pair of sunglasses once), but must be something that is important or embarrassing. (Lit Reactor)
  10. Go out to lunch with the character. I’m me, they’re them, and see where we are alike and not alike, if we get along. (Lit Reactor)
    1. Who issued the invite?
    2. What’s ordered?
    3. Where do we go?

BONUS EXERCISE: Make a list of real-life people I’ve met. Then list their Flaws (major and minor, aware of or blind to). Why might they have these flaws? How do the flaws hold them back?


  • Character Descriptions
  • The Positive Trait Thesaurus (Ackerman & Puglisi)
  • The Negative Trait Thesaurus (Ackerman & Puglisi)
  • Character, Emotion & Viewpoint (Nancy Kress)
  • Creating Character Arcs (K.M. Weiland)

I don’t have any illusions that I’ll be a master at character creation by the end of this “course,” but I’ know I’ll definitely be better than I am now. And at that time, maybe I’ll make a Character Development 102 lesson plan that incorporates all knew things I will have realized I need to work on.

The idea is to just never stop learning. I learn better with structure because those small, happy bursts of task completion are super motivating to me. If you’re not the same way, then hey, at least you can enjoy a compiled list of really fun exercises to play with.

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