Prepared by: Patricia Johnson
Posted on: November 11, 2001
Reposted on: December 7, 2003
This exercise looks at character
development - how to make a
alive through the use of significant details.
(For help with this exercise, you can
check out the character chart
The first two parts of the exercise are
for your own benefit. Start
three to five traits of a character. For example, is your character
noble, greedy, ambitious, shy, extroverted, insecure? Make sure to
least one positive and one negative trait.
Next, list 15 or so character details that
go along with one or more
traits - this can be a behavior, mannerism, or whatever. For example, a
character would carefully count the change given by the cashier, a
character wouldn't. (Try to use more than one sense - would there be
peculiar about the character's voice and diction, for example? Would
character be more likely to smell of cologne or sweat?)
From that list of details, select the 5
(or so) most significant.
Use those to
write a scene of 250 to 400 words. Do *not* use the words you came up
your list of traits - don't *tell* us your character is proud or shy or
whatever, *show* us!
When critiquing this story, say what
impression you got of the
listing the traits you imagined. (It's not necessarily a problem if the
critics' traits don't line up with the author's - it might be a sign of
character evolving during the process. On the other hand, it might mean
wrong details were presented...)
Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: December 15, 2003
The character details exercise's most
successful submissions created
identifiable characters. This was accomplished by writing in-depth
a variety of methods. The details allowed the reader to determine the
setting, empathy or lack of empathy between characters. Often dialogue
action were used, which brought out characteristics by showing instead
telling. Readers drew their own conclusions without too much
most successful stories left the readers curious, wanting to know more
Successful submissions used a mix of
physical and emotional
Good interaction between the different characters was employed.
choices and sentences allowed development in the short, challenging
Describing certain characteristics metaphorically was used as a method
in a few
Some of the main weaknesses to work out
for the next time include:
Building dimensional characters; not
listing the characteristics,
using devices to develop them inside the story; careful attention to
of characters and POVs; keeping the narration believable and clear to
story's meaning; using specifics instead of broad ethereal details;
of characteristics to each character (individual believability); and
convincing interaction between characters.
The exercise enabled critiquers to freely
interpret each character.
critiquers gave good feedback as to their impressions and imaginings of
Thanks for your participation in the
exercise. Hopefully you gained
knowledge of character development to carry into your writing.
Patricia L. Johnson
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.