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InfoGuides | Pepperdine Libraries

The Drescher Library Presents: "Into the LibraryVerse" Writing Workshop

When I write a screenplay, I create an emotional map, where the characters are, where they’re going and where they’ve been. Ava DuVernay


In this session, you will learn the basics of character design and development for your writing project. You will have also the opportunity to apply what you have learned through fun, interactive exercises. 


This session has six exercises to help you design and develop your characters. Click through using the left or right-hand arrow on the screen to access all of the exercises. 

Exercise 1: Creating a Character

Use the following questions to design your character. Create an image in your mind and answer the questions you see in this exercise, along with any questions you can think of that help give you a clear image of your character:

  • Who is your main character (name)?
  • What do they look like (physical description with age and gender identity)?
  • What is their background? Where were they born? Who are their family members, or who raised them? 
  • What are they looking to achieve (wealth, survival, knowledge, all the above)?
  • Describe their personality (are they serious, sarcastic, shy, anxious, brave)? Think about how you want these traits to impact your character’s story arc.
  • What is/are the character’s skill(s) and/or weakness(es)?
  • Who are your character’s friends/enemies?
    • Use the previous questions to design these characters, and try to place each character within your Timeline exercise

Exercise 2: Create Character Relationships

  • Think about people in your life, old friends, family members, co-workers. Pick events where you either fought with, helped, supported, or were encouraged by these individuals. Try to focus on moments leading up to these moments and ask how each step led to the result. Think about the end result and how it was resolved or not. 
  • Use this exercise to inspire how your characters react to one another. Friends fight, laugh, support, and challenge each other, so design your characters to do the same.

Exercise 3: Character Story Arc

This exercise will help you focus on how your character grows, develops, and/or changes as your story progresses. Use these questions to help guide how your character fits within your story and what shapes your character as the story progresses.

  • How does your character behave in the beginning of the story?
  • How does the main tension/conflict impact your character?
  • What does your character need to overcome their conflict?
  • How do you want the character to evolve? What do you want to stay the same or similar?
  • What do you want the character to learn from their experiences?
  • What do you want them to continue to learn?

Exercise 4: Character Tree

  • Once you have designed a description of your characters, create a character tree (similar to a family tree) but place the protagonist as your matriarch/patriarch and map their relationships with other characters
  • Include your characters' friends, family members, enemies, and then link these characters back to your protagonist

Exercise 5: Motivations

Use this exercise to explore the motivations of your protagonist and antagonist. Write two scenes, one from each of their viewpoints in the first person present tense. Include their external and internal motivations. For example, your character could be motivated to find a good job (external) to find a sense of self-worth (internal). 

  • Make sure you name the characters. 

  • Use the five senses, dialogue, body language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character. 

  • Show the setting through the characters' interaction with it.

Exercise 6: Character Observation by Neil Gaiman

  • Watch a television series or film on mute where you can observe people on screen. Choose one person and invent a few details about them. What’s their name? Why are they there? How do they feel?  

  • Now write a one-page description of them. Find one detail that will make them distinct for a reader. Show their thoughts, but try to blend it in with the world around them. Don’t be afraid to make their inner world completely different from their appearance or surroundings.