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Calisthenics for Creating Likeable Characters by Bret Anthony Johnson.

I just came across these exercises and thought they might be helpful. It's a single page pdf, so either download it or, if your browser handles pdfs happily, click on it. Bret Anthony Johnston is the Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University.


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Interesting exercises. I think that what they tell us is that characters, like people, come to a writer each with a past and a personality. It is the writer's responsibility as their biographer, in the telling of a particular story about them, to understand their individuality and how their histories might foreshadow and drive the story the characters have been placed within.

The story whose first chapter I have just finished reading here on AD, Seasons for the Boy, by Chris James, is a very good example of how that works.

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Yeah, one of the tricks to making a character likable is having another character in the story observe all his good qualities. That way, he's not just admirable to the reader -- he's specifically admired by someone else.

I think another good method is to give the character a pivotal moral decision to make -- do they try to save somebody's life? Do they try to do the right thing, even though it will take a huge amount of effort? Do they stand up for someone unpopular for the right reasons? -- and show why they're a good, solid person by example.

I agree with many of Johnston's points, especially the one about having each major character want something. That reveals a lot about the character, especially when they get it (or don't get what they want).

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