In order to sell a book and get it published, you need to create a product, which, for most of us here at Aspiring Author, is a novel. And in order to write the darn thing (while lamenting your career choices), you need to live and breathe your characters. Character writing prompts can be an excellent way to help you get inside your characters’ heads and achieve that elusive narrative voice through speech, dialogue, or internal narration.
Creating real people
Creating convincing characters isn’t easy. Have you ever had that feeling that your characters are slippery, not quite sounding or doing the right things, or, worse, are fake? Have you noticed them steering their own way, diverging from your carefully outlined plot? Characters are the one device that should drive your plot – not the other way around. Follow them down whichever dark paths they choose in order to access the truth. Keep them honest and as grounded in reality as possible.
When it comes to creating 3D characters, Ernest Hemingway said it best: “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” And to write real people, you need to ground your people in reality: real circumstances, real settings, and real thoughts and feelings. These character writing prompts have been designed to help you expose the human condition in all its imperfect glory. Humans are multi-layered (ah, the onion), with numerous internal complications, feelings, and flaws. Remember: characters have to change in order for the reader to care about them. They must go on a journey, through which your novel’s plot is the vessel.
101 character writing prompts
Below are 101 character writing prompts that will help you deepen your understanding of your characters and elevate them from caricatures into real people. As you work your way through these character writing prompts, consider writing how your characters think, feel, but also change. Sameness is never interesting to read.
- Does your character have any moles, birth marks, or beauty spots? Where? Describe them.
- Hair is not character. However, it can show something unexpected or unusual about your character. Write a scene featuring your character’s hair, without relying on the usual tropes (length, color etc.).
- Write what your character thinks they see when they see their reflection.
- Write a scene about your character in costume. What are they wearing, and why? How do they feel about it?
- What does your character’s coughing, sneezing, and hiccoughing sound like?
- What do they look like when they’re sick?
- What’s in your character’s wallet apart from money?
- Switch the gender of your character. How does that change how they think, feel, and move through the world?
- Write about your character getting their ears pierced or getting a tattoo.
- Describe your characters hands and feet.
- Show your character doing a workout. What are they wearing? How do they look before, during and after?
- Draw a sketch of your character’s passport. Does it help you understand who they are and where they come from?
- What is your character’s biggest flaw?
- What is your character’s biggest fear?
- What or who would your character kill for?
- What does your character want more than anything else in the world?
- What is the one thing that is stopping them from getting it?
- Write a therapy session between your character and their therapist.
- Write a scene without dialogue that shows exactly what your character wants – only through their actions.
- Show your character’s reaction to getting a parking ticket.
- Write a scene about a mental health challenge your character has faced.
- Put your character on a diet. How do they feel? What mood are they in?
- Write about your character being insatiable thirsty.
- Write about a time when your character couldn’t stop laughing.
- Using just dialogue, write a scene between your character and someone they’re attracted to.
- Your character is being lectured by someone in a position of authority. How do they react?
- Show your character making a selfish decision and the ramifications it has on their life.
- What is your character’s favorite book, and why? Has it always been the same book, or have their tastes evolved?
- Write a scene where your character can’t remember what happened the night before, and they’re trying to piece it together.
- Imagine your character is a nervous flyer. Document their thoughts during take-off.
- Write a recollection scene about the most frightening time of your character’s life.
- Show your character’s most embarrassing moment, either through recollection, dialogue, or action.
- Write a scene where your character is struggling to show or purposefully concealing their real feelings and emotions.
Family, relationships, and home
- How does your character spend their Christmas holidays, and who with?
- Write a scene with your character attending a family funeral.
- What are your character’s earliest memories? Do they remember their first home, their parents, or something else?
- Your character has a bunch of keys. What do they have as keyrings?
- Write an argument between your character and their mother and/or father.
- Describe a family portrait: who’s in it? Where are they now?
- Write your character’s bedtime ritual.
- Show your character having an argument with a family member at the dinner table. Do they win?
- What does your character’s closet and/or bedside drawer look like? What’s inside? Are they hiding anything they shouldn’t be?
- Write a drunk argument between your character and a family member.
- Imagine your character has a twin. List their similarities and differences, both physical and otherwise.
- Write about your character on graduation day.
- Write about your character going on a blind date.
- Your character is getting married. They choose an unusual wedding cake topper. What is it, and why is it important?
- Does your character want kids now or in the future? Why or why not?
- Write a scene where your character moves to a new town. Are they welcome? Why or why not?
- Write about a home invasion. Show your character’s possessions strewn and/or missing. What’s the first thing they check?
- Your character opens a letter not addressed to them, only to discover a secret about the previous resident. How do they react?
- Write a sex scene without mentioning anatomy (you can do it!).
- Put your character in a country where they don’t speak the language. How do they get by?
- Show your character meeting their first love again for the first time in ten years.
Epistolary character writing prompts
- Write a letter in your character’s handwriting.
- Write a Craigslist ad from the voice of your character.
- Write an Airbnb listing for your character.
- Write your character’s LinkedIn profile.
- Create an online dating profile for your character.
- Write a letter to your character’s younger self.
- Create a tarot card reading for your character.
- Come up with your character’s regular take-out order.
- Write out your character’s family tree, including dates of birth, marriage, and death.
- Write a postcard home from a far-flung destination.
- Write a journal entry from a pivotal day in your character’s life.
- Write a Valentine’s Day card from your character.
- Write your character’s weekly shopping list. Include one item that doesn’t go with the rest.
- Write a text conversation between your character and another person who they are trying to seduce or win over.
- Write two lies and a truth for your character. The lies should be as convincing as the truth.
- Write a scene with your character on the top of a Ferris wheel. What can they see? How do they feel?
- Write a scene with your character in a haunted house.
- Write a scene with your character falling asleep on the deck of a boat.
- Write a scene with your character in a station waiting room. Where are they going and why?
- Write a scene with your character in a hospital bed.
- Your character has just been discovered stealing a midnight snack. How do they respond?
- Write a scene with your character at a baseball game.
- Write a scene with your character at a fireworks display.
- Write a scene where your character is in a cemetery in the snow.
- Your character is going on a camping trip. What do they pack?
- Write a scene showing your character going into a church or place of worship.
- Write a scene at the top of revolving skyscraper restaurant.
- Your character makes a surprising discovery in a hotel room. What is it?
- Your character enters an antiques store. What trinket do they come away with?
- Write a scene where your character gets lost in a vineyard.
- Write a scene with your character on a boardwalk or pier.
- Imagine your character living in another decade. Now write about them – their clothes, their job, their desires.
Nature and animals
- What is your character’s favorite season and why?
- Write about your character ice skating on a frozen pond.
- What does your character see when they look up at the night sky?
- Is your character a cat or a dog person?
- Or do they have an unusual pet? Write about it!
- Write about your character accidentally hitting an animal with their car.
- Write about your character’s experience of dissecting a frog in a science lesson.
- What’s the first animal your character goes to see at the zoo?
- Your character gets stung by a bee. How do they react?
- Write a scene with your character sunbathing on a tropical beach.
- Write a scene with your character skinny dipping in a lake.
- Write a scene with your character watching the sun rise from a mountain top.
- Take your character for a walk in the woods when the light is fading.
- Describe the images, shapes, and patterns your character sees in passing clouds.
- Write a scene where your character is caught in a thunderstorm.
Of course, there are countless more character writing prompts that you can work on. We hope these 101 character writing prompts from Aspiring Author give you just enough to spark your writerly imagination and take your characters to multi-layered, unexpected, and very real places. And trust yourself that your characters can be strange, because the truth is almost always stranger than fiction.