Nearly every character has a piece of the writer in them. Creating characters with differing vocabulary, values, beliefs, and attitudes can be a hard thing for a writer. For some it comes naturally, for others they struggle to create someone unique. Many people can create characters with different skills or abilities but when it comes to a belief system they get trapped. They’re too similar. They’re too much of the person creating them or in such stark contrast from each other it comes off fake. Unfortunately many think the differing of thoughts is solely between a protagonist and an antagonist. If that was the case with Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship then they’d all be pretty boring. Different opinions shouldn’t just be between the good guys and the bad guys, but all the characters. So how do you make everyone have depth?
One way is a Writing Prompt.
I know a few writers who insist they don’t need some silly prompt telling them what to do. They already got everything figured out and doing something different would waste their time. For the longest time I thought the same way.
A writing prompt can be an effective tool to get new ideas flowing, challenge you to write in different styles, or even help create a meaningful character. Over at Writer’s Digest, Brian A. Klems has devoted a lot to writing prompts, mostly to kick off a story, which you can check out here for future reference.
A lot of writers, including myself, have struggled or struggle with creating depth to a character. Some people only know how to write their own feelings and opinions and when they approach a different view they have generic views to conflict with their personal beliefs. Your characters are you. So how do you bring life to something different than your own thought process?
The following is a writing prompt I was given a while ago. I’ve seen great results from this, not only developing a character’s belief system, but also helping with dialogue and keeping the tangents to a minimum.
- Pick a controversial issue – something that has some middle ground.
- Make a list of six differing viewpoints, including your own, and assign a person’s name to each viewpoint
- Here’s the hard part. You and those five individuals are at a table to discuss the issue. Choose to engage with one specific person with an opposing viewpoint and write 700 words on the topic. If you can’t get 700 words then there’s a good chance you don’t know enough about the issue to effectively write about it.
Some things to remember: There are others hearing the conversation between you and the person you chose to directly engage, they are free to interject their own thoughts on what you said, and this can be used to either help you or your opponent. Look for natural places to add another opinion that would contribute something worthwhile. Don’t feel the need to devote equal attention to the other four players; it’s mostly supposed to be about you and your opponent.
Be sure to show your maturity during this exercise, yield and defend where needed, and find points where you agree. During the prompt it will be easy to go off on a tangent and open up entirely new topics for discussion. Remember that if these new topics have no immediate relation to the current issue, to hedge and point that out between characters so you don’t get sidetracked. (“Edward, that is heading toward a deeper conversation that is worth consideration, but at the present time should be placed on the backburner.”)
If you use this prompt: You will be more able to think critically on an issue in order to bring more dimension and uniqueness to a character, be better at writing meaningful dialogue (such as including other characters in a “conference” setting and building off their comments), and staying focused on the main issue at hand.
Remember, just because people have a common goal doesn’t mean they all have the same beliefs, values, and understanding of a certain subject.
Writing prompts are extremely useful and I plan on coming back to this subject in the near future, but I’d love to see what others would like to discuss. What are some things you would like help with? What topics regarding literature or writing would you like to see?