Characters that Haunt You

We blog for a million different reasons, but in the end, we’re all storytellers. Creative Writing Challenges are here to…

We blog for a million different reasons, but in the end, we’re all storytellers. Creative Writing Challenges are here to help you push your writing boundaries and explore new ideas, subjects, and writing styles.

To participate, tag your post with DPchallenge and include a link to this post, to generate a pingback and help others find the challenges. Please make sure your post has been specifically written in response to this challenge — we might just feature your entry on Freshly Pressed this Friday.

As a Canadian book nerd, I followed the Giller Prize from longlist to shortlist, cheering as Lynn Coady won Canada’s most distinguished literary prize for her short story collection, Hellgoing.

Coady, like you and me — and everyone else who writes — has characters emblazoned in her imagination that follow her around and eventually work their way out of her head:

When you possess a creative brain, says Coady, everyday experiences are used as ingredients for the work you hope one day to make. And, if you’re lucky, the chemistry of all that accumulated weirdness makes art. The weirdness mainly rears its head on social occasions. A party, say, where people are chatting about their jobs, their busy family lives, and it strikes you that the only thing you have (or want) to talk about are the imaginary beings who’ve been living in your head the past few months. Or past year. Or past couple of years.

Who’s been following you around?

Pick one of the characters that inhabit your brain. Today is that character’s birthday! They’re going to emerge from your head to appear in a new scene on your page or screen.

Document at least five important characteristics of your character — the idea is to capture as much detail about them as possible to get to know who they are. Your character is entirely up to you — it could be a human, or an animal, or an inanimate object. The idea is to allow the character to escape the confines of your imagination and become alive on the page. Here are some characteristics to consider — though this list is just a starting point. Experiment! Free yourself from constraints.

Sample characteristics:

  1. Is your character a human, animal, inanimate object, or other type of being?
  2. How old is your character?
  3. Create a physical description including height, weight, race, hair color, and eye color. Does your character have any identifying marks? Birthmarks? Scars? Tattoos? Piercings?
  4. What’s your character’s gender?
  5. Does your character have a job? A special hobby? A particular passion?
  6. What is your character’s greatest fear?
  7. What does your character long for most in life? What do they hope for? Dream about?
  8. What motivates your character? Do they act out of fear? Self preservation? Love? Ambivalence?

Plop your character into a scene

Now that you’ve fleshed out your character in greater detail, write a scene that involves your character. You can plop your character into one of the locations below, or you can invent your own place and time. The scene can be any length you choose, though for the purposes of this challenge, compose at least one paragraph that features your character. What are they doing? Why are they there? What are they thinking about and why?

Sample locations:

  • Downtown New York City. Bustle. Hustle. Taxi horns blaring.
  • The Burning Man festival.
  • In the departure lounge at Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg, Canada.
  • At an old gas station on the edge of your city or town.
  • At a public library.
  • At the seaside.
  • Planet Neptune.
  • Middle-earth.

Remember — you’re the boss. Feel free to choose from the list of characteristics. Mix and match, or invent your own list — only you know which characteristics and location are most important about the character that inhabits your brain. So looking forward to reading what you write. Have fun!

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  1. Great points! I love this…One thing I get irritated by is when someone asks me why character X is this way, or character Z is that way? I don’t know. They have a life of their own once they are out of my head and I don’t discuss those things with them, so maybe the question should be “Why were they revealed in the manner in which you chose to reveal them?” After all, I play God with their lives and there are times they’ll have a happy ending while at other times they will meet an unfortunate chain of events when me and my various alter egos that I consult with on various matters have had enough of them! Maybe with a few of them I should consider a “Black Adder” ending and kill ’em all off in one of my stories purely for therapeutic purposes! Then again, it wouldn’t work…New ones would pop into the brain and I’d be back to square one… GREAT POST! 😉


  2. Funny that this came up today. Just last night I was waffling about whether or not to put one of my (very) short stories into my blog, and the character main character is one I can’t get out of my head. I guess this is the answer…


    1. I enjoyed your political satire, @Bumblepuppies — my favorite part:

      The vote would have been along party lines: R2, D2 (with C3PO abstaining), meaning that nothing would have moved forward… as usual. The powers usually granted by Air Force One were not with them and they stuck their tongues out at each other like little children.


  3. it was a saturday night to remember. i was invited to a company’s annual dinner dance in honor of its employees celebrating their 25 years of service. it was a james bond themed party held at the local vineyard.

    i accepted the invitation because it allowed me to give mr. bond, my childhood hero, the time of day.

    i eagerly dusted off my one and only tuxedo. i’d never worn it in a while. i’d admit it was a little tight at the waist, but it kept my posture straight and held my appetite in check…


  4. OH YEAH! I can so do this. I’ve always wanted to talk about a particular character, but I fear people may think it is a part of my reality. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Muahahahahaaa!.


  5. So I’ve never done anything like this (blogging) but my friend suggested it to me as writing practice for my stories… This challenge is definitely a great way for me to jump into things! Thanks


  6. I’m so envious of writers who have imaginary people living rent-free in their heads.The last time I had someone with me was when I was about four. Her name was Donna and apparently I spoke with her all the time. At least that’s what my parents told me. I also had a horse, Trovo, and how I came up with that name is beyond me. I really can’t remember either of these characters and today I struggle with making them up. It seems I can only write non-fiction.
    I’m always thinking about how to create someone (or two) based on real people, but so far, not good.
    It’ll be fun to read these.


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