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Writing Prompts That Will Help You Develop Your Characters


Looking for new ways to deepen the characters in your story? Check out the following prompts from Sundance Advisor Deborah Goodwin (Justine to a Fault, The Pastor).

Introduce Your Characters to Failure

Failure forces our characters to be wrong. But what if failure actually emboldens your character to reach out to others for support and in compassionate solidarity? Or, what if failure makes your character take a good long hard look at themselves? Repent? Revise? Renew their vow? Redetermine the direction of their goal? Failure can be fuel. Gasoline on the fire of your character’s motivation and resolve. 

Here are three fuel-additive prompts for re-examining your character’s relationship to failure:

  • Is your character a perpetual optimist who only sees the upside of failure? Are they always ready with a pep talk or solution to some other characters’ failed status? Then they are the very best asset to your story about never giving up and they will either become a main character or teach your protagonist to refuse to accept defeat as the final word. Whoever your protagonist finds in their story world to show how failure can work in their favor is an indispensable character.
  • Can your character(s) adapt and change their response to failure? What if, instead of feeling weak and defeated, your character feels impervious? They forge ahead in your story like a super character, who can never be touched by failure. This is a great device to flip your story world on its head from “known” to “unknown” and it lends itself to literally all genres. Take that just a little further and your character might discover their inner daredevil with a pivot to resilience that makes them uncompromising in their willingness to recognize failure at all. Think how invincible your character would be, or seem to be, if they simply never acknowledge defeat? This creates a super recipe for comedy and an incredible obstacle for any other genre.
  • In real life, we have trouble adapting to failure, but imagine if, once your character has been through the worst, beaten down by circumstances, given into a spiral of shame or even outright quit, they can be turned around by another character (see #1) or by some profound revelation about their situation that ultimately allows them to find new resolve and turn the despair of defeat into their greatest strength? 


Give Your Character Conflicting Traits that Might Lead Them to Break Their Resolve

Some other examples of character traits that aren’t often found together and how they might test a character’s resolve:

  • A matchmaker resolved not to meddle in her daughter’s wedding plans.
  • The office rival, often portrayed as under-handed or deceitful in their plans to get ahead, pledges to play fairly no matter what.
  • A bookish flirt gets asked on a date by their crush but needs to study for an important test.

Want to learn more from Deborah Goodwin? Check out her self-paced course, Screenwriting: From Outline to First Draft of Your Screenplay.

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