No matter what kind of writing you do, the strength of the story will come down to the characters. Every story is a human story, even if the characters are aliens, robots, trees, or animals. Which is why it's important to get the characters right.
To make them seem genuine, believable, and relatable. And this article on character prompts will help you do just that.
- The importance of round characters.
- Signs character prompts can help.
- A list of writing prompts to help you.
Table of contents
How Important Characters Are to a Story
The first Mission: Impossible movie was released in 1996, laying the foundation for the iconic film series still going strong today. But the version released to theaters wasn't the same version director Brian De Palma originally shot. Something was missing, and it was George Lucas who pointed it out to De Palma after a private screening.
If you'll recall (spoiler alert?!), the movie starts off with a mission — in which most of the team members are killed off in a shocking twist. Originally, De Palma went right into the action, thinking it would pull the audience in and engage them from the get-go. He was half right. As Lucas pointed out, there was no “Spaghetti Scene” that set up the characters and what their mission was. In order for the action to be exciting, the audience needed to get to know the characters a little bit beforehand.
One of the co-writers, David Koepp, wrote the scene and De Palma called the actors back in for a reshoot. In the final version of the movie, there's a scene where the team is sitting around the table, learning about the mission and bantering. They're not eating spaghetti, but the result is the same.
The added scene does two important things. It provides essential exposition and lets the audience get to know the characters a little bit before they unexpectedly die. It gives the unexpected deaths a level of shock they wouldn't have had otherwise.
This example is one of masterful storytelling. And it outlines the importance of character development. But you can't tell the audience who your characters are unless you know them first.
Getting to Know Your Characters
You can't have a good story without character and plot interacting. Even the most complex and interesting character is boring if there's nothing interesting happening that puts them to the test. So it's important to think of character in conjunction with plot, and how the two interact with each other.
Many authors find that creative writing becomes much easier when they have their major characters (or at least their main character) fixed well in their mind. Some authors do this as they write the novel or short story. Others like to get to know their characters before they sit down to write. There's no right or wrong way. But if you find yourself getting stuck wondering what your character would do in a situation, then it may be time to solidify your character a bit.
When to Use Character Prompts
Sometimes, the plot doesn't seem to be working well, and you don't know why. This can happen when a writer tries to shoehorn a character into the plot, rather than letting the character “react” to the situation in a more natural way.
One of the biggest turn-offs for readers is when a character acts in a manner inconsistent with whey they know about them. There needs to be a very good reason for a character to act inconsistently or against their interests. (The teenage girl in the horror movie going into the dark basement when she could just leave the house, anyone?)
When you really know your characters, you can “allow” them to act naturally as the story progresses. And you don't have to become a discovery writer (aka pantser) to do this. You can still plot your novel out and have characters surprise you. In fact, sometimes the most exciting twist is one even the author doesn't see coming.
And getting to know your character with character prompts is a great way to facilitate this autonomy. Keep this in mind as you choose one or more prompts for your writing exercise.
Pro Tip: Before we get to the prompts, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are other ways to get to know your characters. Creating unique character profiles is one great way. You can learn how to do it with our character profiles article.
Now, on to the prompts!
Character Writing Prompts
The following writing prompts can help you flesh out existing characters or even help you determine what you need to know about new characters. They can work for characters in different genres, but you may find some better than others for your specific fiction project.
Pick and choose the ones that sound interesting, or do them all! Either way, they are a great help in getting the ideas flowing.
1. What is your character's biggest flaw?
2. If your character got a speeding ticket, how would they react?
3. Write a scene in which your character is talking to someone they're attracted to. What do they say? Describe their body language during the interaction.
4. Write a scene comprising only dialogue in which your character is trying to convince another character to do something not in their interest.
5. Explore your character's way of speaking. Do they have an accent?
6. Does the character have a favorite expression?
7. Does your character curse when they're angry? Are there any curse words that they never say?
8. What is your character's greatest strength?
9. Where does the character come from? Where were they born?
10. Come up with three to five major events that helped shape the character's personality when we meet them in the book/story.
11. What's your character's biggest fear?
12. What, if anything, does your character feel inadequate about?
13. What is your character's favorite book? Why?
14. What is your character's favorite movie? Why?
15. What is your character's favorite song? Why?
16. Does your character play an instrument? Which one?
17. Does your character speak more than one language? Which one(s)?
18. Write a short story in which your character interacts with all their closest family members at a chaotic family function.
19. Is your character an optimist or a pessimist? Write a scene in which this is indirectly addressed.
20. Write 500 words inside your character's head. What is their inner monologue like?
21. What's the one thing your character wants most in the world? Peace? Money? Power? Love?
22. What kind of person is your character? Extrovert? Introvert?
23. Is your character a morning person or a night owl?
24. Write a scene in which your character goes grocery shopping but experiences increasingly frustrating inconveniences. Do they prepare for the trip with bags and a list? How do they respond to the setbacks?
25. Does your character have a recurring nightmare?
26. Does your character have recurring dreams?
27. Does your character have any neuroses?
28. What does your character spend their extra money on?
29. Write a scene in which your character finds themself in a room full of strangers. How do they react?
30. Your character comes across a homeless person asking for help. How do they react?
31. Is your character always on time? Write a scene in which they're late for an important meeting.
32. Who is your character's favorite fictional character? Why?
33. Write about your character's favorite form of exercise. Is it running, swimming, biking, lifting weights, or CrossFit?
34. Use one word to describe your character.
35. Write about the worst day of your character's life.
36. Real people are complex and often contradictory. Give your character one or two character twists that seem incongruous with their outward demeanor. Write a backstory for these character twists.
37. Does your character have any scars? How did they get them?
38. Does your character have any piercings or tattoos? What and where are they?
39. Write a “save the cat” scene with your character.
40. Is your character naturally talented, or do they have to work hard to learn new skills? How does this affect their personality?
Hopefully, these creative writing prompts have helped you flesh out your characters and, in turn, your story. Choose a favorite prompt or two and use them for characters in other stories, as well!
Pro Tip: If you have a great character but are struggling with story ideas, check out the story structure hub here.
Writing a great story with compelling characters is only half the battle. The next half comes when you get your story out into the world. And the best way to position your book for success is through the effective use of data. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to take long.
Getting to Know Your Market
Just as getting to know your characters is important for writing a good story, getting to know your market is essential for getting your story in front of readers. There are a couple of ways to do this, but only one that leaves you more time for actual writing. And that means using Publisher Rocket, made by the team here at Kindlepreneur.
With Publisher Rocket, you can get data in seconds that would otherwise take you hours. The main tools allow you to:
- Learn what keywords Amazon customers use to search for books like yours — and how many searches a given keyword (or phrase) gets per month.
- See what's working for other authors in your genre with data on book prices, monthly sales, ranking, and book cover art.
- Find niche categories with the right amount of demand and competition for your books.
- Gather keywords to use in your Amazon Ad campaigns.
Check out Publisher Rocket here to learn more.