Tips & Tricks

Writing Characters – What To Do When You’re Fresh Out of Ideas

As December begins (and the NaNoWriMo ends), you may be nearing your wits end when it comes to writing. If writer’s block has hit you like a train and you’re crawling down the trails of character development on barely all fours, it may be time for a a pick-me-up. Perhaps you’re struggling to balance out your character’s personality traits, create an interesting backstory or history, name that one strange uncle who always had a profound impact on them. Or, if you’re really struggling, you can’t even think of anything other than a name for said character (and even those can be tricky to nail on the head).  If you have already checked out our various articles for the writing inclined (such as advice from WriMo veterans and other NaNoWriMo tips, our Writing Resources page, or other similar topics) and are still hitting a wall when it comes to writing your characters, look no further! Finding inspiration to write unique and refreshing characters may be just a short read away.

  1. Listen to music

Got a favourite song, album or lyric you can’t get out of your head? Try sitting back and relaxing with some headphones on and your eyes closed and let the music do the thinking for you. What would a character be doing if they were to follow a journey based on what you’re listening to? What setting or mood comes to mind when you hear a particular song? Do the lyrics tell a story about a person that you could adapt to fit your imagination? Does an album you’ve been digging recently have similar themes, or could you write an entire family based on it and give them each a particular song to shape each member around? Music is anything but boring no matter what genres are on your playlists, so turn those tunes into walking, talking characters!

2. Use prompts

Prompts are absolutely fantastic for generating muse for just about anything. If you throw ‘writing prompts’ into Google you’ll get dozens of suggestions, but here’s a few of my personal favourites that have always helped to get the creative juices flowing. Try OneWord.com that gives you one word to go with and sixty seconds to write something about it. If time limits stress you out, perhaps WritingExcercises.co.uk will do the trick. They have dozens of generators ranging from characters, dialogue, scenarios and personality traits and helpful exercises to generate muse. Then there’s trusty Tumblr with their inspirational everything (which I actually find super helpful when it comes to writing characters, reblogging and tagging photos and quotes that remind me of characters on my own blog) and the handy writing prompt tag is filled to the brim with suggestions and prompts submitted by young writers themselves.

3. Try an RPG

Text-based writing RPGs are a great place to write characters. Not only are they are filled with fellow storytellers constantly creating new plots, scenarios, characters and relationships, more often than not the forums or sites they’re based on already have a plot or setting ready to go – all you have to do is create your characters to fill that world. Some of the most well-written characters I have read have come from RPGs, and plotting with other members who love to help bring your characters to life can definitely help you develop both your writing ability and your characters.

4. Give your character flaws

Nobody likes a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu. Flaws make characters unique and real, and readers connect with flawed characters a lot more than those perfect hero types (not saying that heroes can’t be flawed – the best kind of heroes are!) You’ll find yourself longing to write out the interesting quirks and habits your characters have, as a more relatable and realistic character is easier to get back into the swing of things once you sit down to write. Being perfect all the time can be exhausting and you’ll feel the mental burn writing a character as such. Give them a bad habit, a frustrating family they never get on with, a potty mouth, a scar they’re ashamed of (or one that tells a story), a compulsive need to steal things. The list goes on!

5. Base your character on something you’re familiar with

Be it a fairy tale, a colour, an element, your favourite movie, or a season, find a central theme and work around that. Maybe your character has a spirit animal and takes on similar traits, or dreams of being a pirate and spends all of their time by the ocean. Try a modern-day Cinderella who works as a dishwasher in downtown New York, or a boy scared of lifting his roots from the earth of his hometown and is suddenly uprooted and thrust into an unfamiliar environment when his Dad gets a job overseas. Whatever is it, this is a great way to take something you know well and turning it into a piece of writing unique to your own thoughts, feeling, experiences and takes.

Photo Credit: Header, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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One thought on “Writing Characters – What To Do When You’re Fresh Out of Ideas

  1. Pingback: On Writing Well – haas-it-going?

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