Writing Exercise: Roleplay

This is an exercise for someone who’s already created a few characters. Pull out your notes and your character sketches. If you’ve ever played a roleplaying game then this should be second nature to you. The idea is to get into your characters and get to know them better — let them tell you what they’re like.

This is one of those exercises that works better if you have someone who can help you out. If you do, get them to play the other character(s) involved (in those cases where you’re roleplaying conversation). If you don’t, then either type up dialogues, or (preferably) resort to daydreaming; just speak your part of things out loud. Alternatively, hold a conversation between you as yourself and one of your characters.

This is also one of those exercises that works better if the two characters involved are capable of holding a meaningful conversation. Characters who are going to stare at each other and shrug aren’t going to get much use out of this exercise. One great way to start is by picking two characters who have a history together or who seem totally and utterly incompatible. You might even find some interesting things out about the ways in which they interact. Once you’re used to this you can try throwing random characters together and see what happens.

  • #18a. Pick an event from the characters’ history. It should be something of emotional import to both characters. Pick a starting point and start the dialogue. Try to include body language; stride around the room and gesticulate where appropriate. For your first couple of times it might help to write a bit of an introductory scene — something to set the stage and help you get into the situation.
  • #18b. Allow one of your characters to try to explain past actions to another character. It could be something he’s ashamed of, something he’s trying to justify, something he wants forgiveness for, etc.
  • #18c. Pick a hobby that one of your characters enjoys; obviously this should be something inexpensive and not too difficult to do. Learn how do it. Explore it a little. Indulge in a little gardening, candle-making, sewing, or something else that intrigues you. Obviously, avoid destructive or self-destructive hobbies!
  • #18d. Read a book, magazine, or newspaper that your character would read. Watch a TV show or movie that he’d watch. Try to put yourself in his mindset while you watch.
  • #18e. Allow two of your characters to talk about the future. Let them talk about their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their plans.
  • #18f. Pick a momentous event from your story. Let several of your characters talk about it. Let them argue about it, discuss it, air their views on it, and engaged in heated debate on the topic.
  • #18g. Go to a place that your character likes. Take a hike in the woods. Sit in a cafe and watch the patrons. Take notes about what your character would do there, how he feels, whom he’d talk to.
  • #18h. This is the same as 18g, but take your character someplace that he doesn’t usually go. Find out how your fantasy character would react to a drive in an automobile. Find out what your science-fiction character would think of a walk in the woods. If you’re going someplace that isn’t too public, you can combine this or the last exercise with one of the in-character conversations.
  • #18i. Have someone help you read a dialogue from one of your stories aloud. Make sure the other person is well-versed on what her character is like ahead of time. As you read the dialogue, pay attention to whether it sounds natural–both in terms of how the writing sounds, and in terms of what the characters would be likely to say! You might discover that your characters have entirely different ideas about what they’d like to say to each other.
  • #18j. Interview one of your characters. Come up with a list of questions and try not to give yourself too much time to think about the answers.
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