Writing Practice Scenes for Character Development

AngelThe adage says, “Character is story.” Writers are urged to develop three-D characters and avoid flat or stereotypical characters. While this skill may come naturally to some, others struggle to write characters who feel like real people.

Writing Tip for Today: In my classes, I teach scene writing alongside character development. Practice scene writing is one method for developing or deepening your Main Character:

Populate your Scene

Necessary to any scene are a place, a time (specific) and someone through whom we experience the action (Main or POV Character). If you are still building your Main Character (Protagonist or POV Point of View), determine your scene’s place/time and drop him into the picture. Great. He looks around and wonders why he’s there. Aha! You get to answer this question. Start by asking him what he wants most but can’t have (easily). When your MC knows why she’s there, ask who or what stands in the way (an obstacle can be a person(s), weather, animals or Nature). For the sake of this exercise, invent another character (aka antagonist) who wants to prevent your MC from getting what she wants. Voila. You’ve got your Shootout at the OK Corral.

And Action!

So far, you answered the who, the why, the where, and the what of the scene. But everyone is frozen. So you as the director, must put these people into action. Here you write the action (movement), the dialogue and the concrete sensory details to make the scene come alive. Experiment with different actions, lines spoken and the description of surroundings, thoughts and most importantly, the feelings of the MC as she moves through time and space. At first just get down the bare bones of people, dialogue and action. Don’t worry if your first effort results in mostly dialogue. Later on, you can add different camera angles and more subtle expressions of thought and emotion. The scene can be long or short, but do allow the characters to tussle.

Build that Tension

As you envision your MC, you can’t afford to allow her to breeze through the scene without a care. Remember, you’ve put that protag head-to-head with someone who either wants the same thing or else is determined the MC can’t have it. This is how you develop tension, and the more that is at stake in the scene, the higher that tension will be. If your character is trying to score the hot toy of the Christmas season and is in combat with another shopper, your character simply can’t give up and walk away. If she does, the reader will conclude the toy wasn’t worth fighting for and didn’t matter. Make your character willing to fight for what he wants most.

Wrapping Up

Fictional scenes are like mini versions of your whole story. They have beginnings (reader knows where, when, why and who of the scene), middles (putting these elements into action, with dialogue and concrete sensory detail) and ends. The end of your scene informs readers of who wins or loses (for now) the prize in question. The ending also propels readers into the next scene, where your MC doubles down effort or tries a new tactic. By the end of this practice scene, which may or may not make it into your actual manuscript, you should know your character in greater depth than before. Practice writing scenes will also help you write better scenes for your novel, and help reveal your character’s motivation for wanting the prize in the first place.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite character development tool?

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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