Brainstorm Dynamic Characters in a Flash

Sometimes a character will pop into your head fully formed, like you’ve been friends forever and you know everything about them and can finish each other’s sentences. But sometimes–most times, I’d say–you start with a glimpse of a character. A piece of dialogue. A specific reaction. Or another sliver of information that’s just one facet of their complex personality.

Sure, you can start writing based on that tiny detail and get to know them as the story unfolds. But that can lead to some confusion in your story, as characters will often acquire contradicting traits as they develop, or even flat-out change their minds about who they are.

To avoid all of this confusion, I like to play a little game when brainstorming a new character. I call it “Character Speed Dating.” This helps me get to know my characters a lot quicker (and saves me tons of revision time).

Here’s how it works:

Pretend you’re at a speed dating event, where you only get to spend 5 minutes with your character (or multiple characters if you’d like to flesh out more than one) before the buzzer goes off.

What are the first things you notice about the character? Write them down. This is probably going to be something external like: What do they look like? What are they wearing? Do they have glasses? How’s their posture? Do they have any distinguishing features?

Now, it’s time to ask some questions. Remember, you only have 5 minutes to really dig deep into who this person is.

So skip the superficial questions like:

  • What are your hobbies?
  • What’s your job?
  • How many siblings do you have?
  • Where do you live?

Answers to these kinds of questions won’t do you much good in the writing process.

Instead, go for deeper questions that are going to reveal more layers and complexities. Like:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • If you could change one thing about your personality, what would it be?
  • Who in your family do you get along with the best? The worst?
  • Tell me 5 random things about yourself?
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of?
  • What’s one thing you could never live without?
  • What’s one secret you’ve never told anyone?

These types of questions will reveal much more than just the surface-level stuff. They’ll reveal things like: goals, motivations, identity, flaws, family dynamics, priorities, and even their deepest darkest secrets.

Starting to write with this kind of information will take your character writing to a whole new level.

You can also drill deeper into any of your character’s responses by asking “why” a few times to get to the root of who they are and why.

Your Challenge:

Pick a character in your latest work in progress–preferably a character who’s feeling a little flat–and go on a 5-minute speed date with them! See if that doesn’t flesh out your character nearly instantly and improve your ability to write them into your story in an engaging way.

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