Character Development: The Benefits of ‘Hot Seating’

CD_Hot Seating

Character development is a difficulty that most writers face, if not all. It is a flaw readers look out for, and the fear of creating a lamented ‘Mary Sue’ can make a writer’s struggle significantly worse.

Personally, I find it a particular weakness in my own writing. Plot and action seem to come naturally to me, whereas the creation of realistic, engaging characters is something at which I have to continually work. For my writing partner, S.E. Berrow, the exact opposite problem is true: characters appear almost fully formed in her head, but developing a compelling plot is not as easy. I like to think this is why we work well as writing partners; we are the Yin and Yang of common author struggles. We share our tricks of the trade, offer advice, and challenge each other to do better.

One such trick I find useful when developing characters is a theatre practice called ‘Hot Seating’. In the theatre, this device is used to ‘get inside the head’ of the character you’ll be portraying: you sit in the centre of your company, and they fire quick questions at you that you must answer as your character, as quickly as possible. This allows an ‘instinctive’ feel for the character to bloom. For obvious reasons, this practice is helpful when getting to know new characters in writing.  Continue reading

Creating Cohesive Characters

CD_Creating Cohesive Characters

I like to fill my down-time with writing exercises.

This one is designed to create cohesion with your three main characters.

It’s easy enough to do: there are six main categories. Take three main characters and answer the following:

1. Your character’s role

2. Your character’s attitude

3. Your character’s temperament

4. Your character’s Deadly Sin

5. Your character’s Hamartia (Fatal Flaw)

6. Your character’s greatest fear

At the end of the exercise, you should find a pattern emerging. Your three characters should be clear individuals but, when viewed together, it should be clear that they complement and play off each other. For instance:

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Women in Fiction: 50 Shades of Agency


In 6th Century China, Hua Mulan took up arms to defend her nation, defying cultural traditions about the role of women.

She was brave, made her own decisions, and fought for what she believed in. She was also fictional; the protagonist of the poem, The Ballad of Hua Mulan.

The original poem tells the story of a seventeen year old woman who was already a martial arts and weapons expert (talents she picked up on the side because weaving didn’t satisfy her). Although she was apparently based on a real person – Fu Hao – she is more popularly known as Fa Mulan, the Disney character.

This cartoon incarnation may not be the most accurate, but the fact Hua Mulan’s story was revisited nearly fifteen centuries after her creation speaks to the strength and longevity of the character.

Fifteen centuries. Dwell on that for a moment, then compare her with some fictional heroines of the modern age: Bella Swan from Twilight, for example, or Ana Steele from 50 Shades of Grey. Just mentioning the names together in a sentence brings a stark contrast to mind – but why?  Continue reading