In writing, a character is often defined by what they treasure, what they fear, and overall, what they’ve experienced. Even if your character’s saving the world or trying to win the girl, that isn’t what they’ve been doing their whole life, correct? If you feel your character(s) are a bit cliche, it can sometimes help to spice up their stories with very specific detail. And that detail, in many cases, can be seen in the midst of a memory.
For best results, you can write each memory out as an individual story. Just be sure to add as much detail as you can, after all, that’s what makes your character unique from the rest!
Here’s ten experiences that you should know about your character (and how to construct those experiences) to truly connect with him or her.
1. What is your character’s happiest memory?
It can be something as simple as the time they skipped school to play a card game, or the last moment they had on their home planet. Even if it’s trivial to us, show us why it matters to them, and it’ll be important in our eyes too.
2. What is your character’s saddest memory?
Pretty much the exact opposite of the last one. Let us know why this is so shattering to your character, and try to be creative! If a parent or friend died, it’s understandable that that’d probably top the sadness charts, but be careful. What can you do to make a moment like that unlike too many other melodramatic “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” scenes in media? Give us enough details about both your character and their loss. Make us lose what they do.
3. What is your character’s scariest memory?
This is a great way to create and establish a lingering fear or even a phobia. Even if your character has an outlandish fear, if you give us a completely legitimate backstory behind their fright, it’ll make it all the better.
4. What is your character’s most embarrassing memory?
This is super fun to come up with and even more fun to write a scene to. Don’t spare any humiliating details here.
5. What is your character’s most prominent childhood memory?
Good or bad, simple or complex, a full scene or just an image, a snippet from your character’s childhood really shows the reader (and the writer!) what the character values in life. This also helps to show how a character might’ve changed, in maturity or emotion, since their childhood—and why that change could’ve occurred. Even more backstory right there, even more development!
6. Give us a shot of your character’s daily life.
Before being sent on a quest for the sacred bacon palace, before starting a road trip to drive all the way to Alaska in two days, before any conflict kicked in whatsoever, your character had a life. Even if it’s boring as can be, how did it go? You could even make a to-do list out of this! As simple as it sounds, it can help show how your character prioritizes, common interests and hobbies, what stresses them out, and even tiny details like their favorite foods!
7. What’s a memorable moment your character shared with others?
This could make for a fantastic scene, and definitely develop your character in so many ways. A scene with interaction, whether it be with a crowd (perhaps a party) or one-on-one (speed dating fiasco, anyone?), would allow you to see how your character acts around people, how they exchange dialogue, and what kind of people they prefer to be around. You may even develop a new character for your bigger story!
8. What’s a memorable moment your character experienced alone?
Sure, it’s the reverse of the last one, but it still opens so many doors. In this intimate and secret environment, your character may be much more open emotionally and socially—or the opposite. This allows you to experiment with thoughts and even establish guilty pleasures. Environment affects a solitary character, too! Be detailed!
9. What’s an interesting romantic/sexual experience your character has had?
Even if romance isn’t applicable to your story, a scene like this (if you’re comfortable with writing it—it’s okay if you’re not!) will allow you to see a more intimate side to your character. You’ll see them vulnerable, and therefore, probably get more out of them than in other experiences. This may also establish why they like/dislike certain people, depending on the person they share this moment with (if they share it with anyone at all). This can even help you explore sexuality. Make it funny or serious, you don’t have to be explicit! However, you do have to be specific. Make this special, different than any other kissy-kissy goo-goo love scene.
10. Show us your character’s bedroom.
While this isn’t exactly an experience (although, you can make a scene occur here, if you want to!), a character’s bedroom often tells more about their personality than the character itself does. This image probably requires the most specificity. Are those little league trophies on the dresser? Even more detailed, are they dusty? Clean? What kind of posters are on the wall? Is that a chocolate stash under the bed? How about that broken keyboard, how long has that been there? A bedroom can describe everything from a character’s interests to their motivation or laziness, and even their past and secrets. Give us everything.
Answering these questions, whether in short sentences or full scenes, can reveal so much about a character to even the writer! Don’t think too hard, and don’t try to make it perfect. Let the characters do the work, and let them tell the story! They’re the ones seizing the moment—it’s just your responsibility to snap the photo.