Writing Exercises to Try When Your Characters Fall Flat

Happy Saturday, everyone! I haven’t shared a writing advice post in a while (so sorry about that! *hides*) and figured it was time to bring it back!

How many of you struggle with your characters falling flat? This is one of my biggest pet peeves when I’m reading and writing, and as such, it’s one of the easiest things for me to pick out when I’m editing for someone. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably harp on it until the day I die: Characters make or break your story.

So if your characters are feeling flat and two-dimensional instead of like real, authentic people, how can you combat that? How do you make them real? How do you get their personalities to shine through the page so that your readers fall in love with them and root for them through the very end? Below I share some of my favorite tried-and-true methods to help you get your characters back on track!

-Character Questionnaires. Sometimes characters are lacking because you simply don’t know enough about them. Oh, sure, you know Wendy has brown hair and likes red lipstick and she’s been an orphan since a young age, but that’s about it. You only know surface details, and the vagueness is messing with your ability to write them because you don’t know why they think the way they do or how they’d react to your story events believably, etc. A great way to dig into the in-depth details and their backstories is through character questionnaires. I’m currently working on one that I hope to share on my blog sooner than later, but until I have that resource available, my favorite go-to is The Ultimate Character Questionnaire on the Novel Factory Website. It’s free to use and has over 150 questions for you to browse and choose between, so it’s the perfect resource!

-Write Drabbles. Maybe you don’t care for the interview format of character questionnaires because it feels too stiff. Maybe you’re more of an experimental writer, where writing about the characters reveals more about them to you than any questionnaire ever could. If this sounds like you at all, writing Drabbles could be a great fit! Drabbles are little scenes that don’t occur in your book where your character is forced to interact with other characters or react to the situations you thrust them into. These can be as simple as having them go on a coffee shop date or as outlandish as transporting them to Mars and having them fight in an intergalactic battle. The purpose of Drabbles is to explore how your characters think, feel, and react to specific scenarios unrelated to your book so you can understand their character better for when you’re writing them in your story scenes. Drabbles can be as long or as short as you want them to be, so it’s great for those of you that might not have a ton of time on your hands! However, a note of warning — it can be so much fun to write Drabbles that you start to procrastinate on your actual story, so keep that in mind if you try this exercise!

-Character Chats. Similar to Drabbles, character chats are having two or more characters get together and either interview each other or thrust them into scenarios not book-related to see how they respond. These are a million times more fun if you have a writer friend who wants to join in, especially since you’re helping each other grow your characters together. That being said, just like with Drabbles, character chats can take the place of writing your own book if you aren’t careful, so be aware!

-Are you basing your character off a real person? If you are, you may be dealing with the fear or struggle to give your character any negative traits because you don’t want to offend the person you’ve based said character off of. I actually wrote a whole blog post on this topic, which you can find HERE!

-Try putting yourself into their shoes to see if how they’re responding to your story events is realistic. One of the biggest issues I find when editing someone’s work and seeing their characters are struggling is that their characters don’t react at all realistically to what’s happening around them. Chances are, if you found out your significant other was just in a bad car accident, you wouldn’t shrug and continue making lattes behind the counter of your local Starbucks, right? You’d be numb or in a panic and that would reflect in your mood, your work, and how you dealt with the people around you. This exercise doesn’t always work, especially if your character is incredibly different from you, but nine times out of ten, it at least gets you on the right track for realistic thoughts and reactions.

-Read your character’s dialogue and thoughts aloud or have Word or Google do it for you. Sometimes the way your character reacts to the situations around them isn’t the problem, but they way they show emotions, think, and speak is. Realistic dialogue and thought processes go a long way in helping your readers connect with your story people, so it’s super important to make sure that thoughts and dialogue are precise.

These are just a few of the things I would recommend trying if your characters feel flat! Don’t try them all at once, of course, but pick a solid one or two and be flexible with yourself if you don’t like certain methods. The method that works for you isn’t always going to be what works for everyone else, and you may find you like a method that isn’t even listed in this post!

Wishing you and your story people the best of luck!

Do you have any methods you wish to add?

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