Improvising with Voice ~ A study in character

Lesson Introduction

What Is Character Development and Why Is It Important?

In literature, character development is the craft of giving a character a personality, depth, and motivations that propel them through a story.  Believable characters are unique and three-dimensional. Each has real attributes, like appearance, personality, and a backstory, that make them relatable. A character’s motivations inform their actions and decisions, creating the narrative arc in the story.


5 Tips for Character Development

When writing a work of fiction, from a thriller to a romance novel, prepare to spend a lot of time fleshing out the details of who the characters are, inside and out. Your goal is to create memorable characters by employing literary devices and writing techniques. Follow these character development tips when you sit down to write:

  1. Establish a character’s motivations and goals. Think of Harry Potter’s quest to defeat Lord Voldemort, fueled by his parents’ murders. Great characters are driven by a deep-seated motivation and have a goal they are trying to reach. This creates interesting characters and also creates a story arc. 
  2. Choose a voice. Who will be telling the story? First person point of view allows a character, usually the main character, to narrate the story using the pronouns “I” and “me.” Third person point of view is a voice that is outside of the action. The perspective of the narrator will determine how a character’s information is revealed over the course of the story.

  3. Create conflict. Conflict is a literary device that pits opposing forces against one another, most often involving the main character. There are different kinds of conflicts that will impact your character’s decisions. A conflict can be external—create a bad guy to go up against a good character. A character can also have an internal struggle when they have to act against their morals or grapple with opposing beliefs. Conflict creates tension and is used to move a story forward by forcing characters to make decisions.

  4. Give important characters a backstory. We all have a backstory, and your fictional characters each need one, too. Dig into your characters’ lives and flesh out their histories. Even if most of it won’t make it onto the page, a character’s backstory will help you figure out what makes them tick and will inform their decisions in the story.

  5. Describe a character’s personality in familiar terms. To create believable characters, create a personality for your main and secondary characters based on characteristics of real people—that will help you create a multi-dimensional, round character with recognizable personality traits and quirks.

vemeo flocab

Created by Flocabulary, this educational hip-hop music video explains how to identify a character’s traits. Characters can be confident, shy, brave, generous, cautious, foolish, friendly, energetic or determined. This video teaches how to identify a character’s traits using their words, actions, thoughts and feelings and the reactions of other characters. It gives examples of direct and indirect characterization and shows how to use evidence from the story to infer a character’s traits.

e. hemmingway
Self Quiz:

Answer the following questions with concrete details, preferably yourself (just as a way to show you what is needed to build a character — and you know yourself better and can use this a springboard to character creation) , but you can create an imaginary proxy if you must (of course, you must know what that means first).

1) What are three things you absolutely love?
(elbow pasta with triple cheese, pit bulls with spiked collars, comicbook movie

2) What are three things you absolutely hate?
(kids with runny noses, miniature golf in the rain, unicorns and leprechauns)

3) Finish this sentence: My ideal profession would be…(an editor for a New York magazine, a bread delivery driver, a pastry chef)

4) Finish this sentence: A profession I would be caught dead pursuing is…
(cold-caller for a sheriffs ball, a fortune teller, a politician)

5) What are three words you over use in your daily vocabulary?
(like, duh, hella, shoot, technically, seriously)

6) What are three words that would never have a place in your vocabulary?
(multi-culti, what a day, yo dude, sup)

7) The two speech habits I can’t shake are…
(rolling my r’s for no reason, stuttering when I’m nervous, starting all my sentences with “hey check it out…)

8) Two speech habits I loath hearing from others are..(ending sentences with a tiny question—is that okay?, open mouth breathing, talking with a mouth full of food)

9) Three qualities about myself (or my imagined/real character)…
(optimistic, nervous, loud)

10) Three qualities I would never use to describe myself…
(negative, serene, quiet)

Directions for Writing Your Own Poem



Write a poem based on the self-quiz and examples here.  Write from the point of view of the character you are writing, but do it in a paired down, poetic form, just so you are getting the background of your character (and sometimes such poems can be used as an epilogue or preface to a book — a cryptic “intro” to the main character.

I can't wait to experience what you write!

Audio & Video Inspiration

defining character

I Am

Heart throbbing,

Head banging,

Smooth dancing music,



Courageous lyrics,


Popping out,

Eye candy pictures,

A singer and dancer,

Night club owner,

passage therapist (in variety),

Animal Caretaker,


X-ray technician,





A teacher,




I am “like” & “yo Dude”,

Unable to describe or get across


What I’m thinking

Like a pause,

Everyone is themselves around me,

I’m Creative (I’m a thinker),

Go out and


I say

I Am Not



Smoldering anger,



Unrated shouting,



Wait a minute laziness,


Out house cleaner,

Pooper scooper,


Strip dance,

Police man.

Jail bait,



the C word

Repeatedly repeating,

Bringing down others.

Computer nerd,




Shandra M.

South Coast High School, 2004




I am the shine in my silver ring

Wrapping my sense of smell

With the salt of ocean water,

My obsession of it,

I will never tell.

I am like the wave a surfer tries to catch

Figuring the balance and beat

which lies within a balance

like a drum.

I am not the nasty tang of tomatoes,

That rot on that school

going of 30 mph sourness.

Just not wanting to pull over

I am not what my dad persists,

Training for the money makin’ job.

A lawyer?

not I,

But a teacher in ways you’d never think.

Arts ‘n crafts, whatever it takes,

For that certificate of a bar tender.

Or something weird I can preach

to be or not to be,

What does it mean?


… mom!

I said

“I know!”

But do I?

it’s a great day,

But is that who I am?

Not like the person saying,

tar, and clan

I know I am the reserved, healthy being,

Saw through the eyes of S.F. ballet,

With motivation,


and my love.

Hell yeah!

Was what I wanted to say,

after my acceptance

To a young girl’s dream.

I am not that lost soul,

Lacking love and entertainment.

Living today with only disagreements

Eavesdropping about

without their own path,

Not I,

I have my own my story.

No others to lurk on.

Blocking street sounds, and their words today,

Go to hell nigger,

Come again another day.

I am not a women,

On the side of the road,

Selling herself with words of pleasure,

And a lacy belt.

I am a women who

avoids any loud,

miss drama queen

I am not the royal fakeness.

Which barricades purity

I am who I am,

With a flaw of repetitiveness,

like when seasons come

And seasons go

But it stays the same


Like’s just one word

A word you might hear,

Over and over

trying to

take care,

cause no matter what,

It’ll always be there.


Natalie A.

11th Grade, SCHS

How Me…?

I am the shadow of light

competition with my colleges
being the basketball
and getting into the game.

Pilot, senator, movie maker… you name it.
Always saying “Weak sauce”, “Sweet!”, or “Don’t even think about it!”.
The random stutters

rambunctious, repetitive, interesting

But I am not the evil insomnia of boredom,
or wondering what strangers think of me.

Nor am I the local fisherman, clown or Wal-Mart store manager,
or saying “you freakin’ nincompoop!” or “Are you feeling Khaki today?”

I am not
a fool

Alex F.
Grade 10, PAHS

Obie the Lab


I am endless holes

being dug to china

The high-speed chase

never ending successfully

White and red polka dot shred

of the Sunday morning mailman’s boxers

I am not the trapped slave of the

strong tree, left over vegetables being left

under the table for me to vacuum

or the little toddler pulling my tail

like a wind up doll.

I am the star on Lassie

once again saving the day

“woof woof,

Give me a bone,

Puppy chow my favorite.”

You’ll never find me saying

“Sit, Stay, Fetch”

the repeated words of enslavement.

I constantly repeat the same thing over

and over really loudly, until I’m heard

Curious, energetic, athletic

I’m always active

never lazy, unloving, or cruel.

Anthony B.



Crystal Blue Eyes

I am

The scent of the 3:00 AM fog

Reading the news in my old rocking chair

The tight hug before bedtime

The man on the chair in the tractor trailer

(talk about trust!)

The fire stoker

The cattle auctions you watch in the living room




Loving grandfather


“Here, Shadow”

“Love you”

Quick to listen, slow to speak

I don’t have to say anything

You can see feeling through my crystal blue eyes

The mumble sometimes when there’s a “smoke”

between my lips


I am NOT

Driving in the city

Missing wine time with grandma

Watching someone else work

Car salesman

Taxi driver

Daredevil motorcyclist


“I’m ashamed of you”

“I’m hungry”





Breanna K. PAHS