Pamela Koehne-Drube

Written by

Pamela Koehne-Drube

15 September 2023


5 Writing Games to Help You Get to Know Your Characters

Writing games to develop characters - Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

The thrill of watching a character unfold and develop on the page is an experience like no other. But, it can be a challenge to truly understand and portray our characters authentically. So, how do we find ways to delve into their minds and bring out their unique voices?

Here are five fun writing games to help you get a better insight into your characters. These writing games not only make the writing process more enjoyable, but they also give you a deeper understanding of your characters, allowing you to write them with more authority and authenticity.

Game 1: AITA?

AITA (Am I the Assh*le), is a type of questioning that originated on Reddit. It involves the author asking, “AITA for ___?” and describing a recent situation where they aren’t sure if they are in the wrong. It also includes variations like WIBTA (Would I Be the Assh*le).

While the subreddit is reserved for real-life stories, adapting it for your fictional world is a great way to explore your character’s internal life and how other characters see them. Writing an AITA post for your characters lets you immerse yourself in their mindset and explore how they see themselves in any given situation. And by writing responses, you can also explore your other character’s reaction to that mindset.

The post guidelines, from the subreddit’s rules, are as follows:

Your title must start with either AITA or WIBTA in all caps.

  • Example 1: AITA for refusing to take The One Ring to Mordor?
  • Example 2: WIBTA if I refused to take The One Ring to Mordor?

Posts are limited to 3000 characters, including spaces, so be concise.

Make sure you are as fair and accurate as possible, and that you provide the information necessary for respondents to pass judgement. Posts should include:

  • The action you have taken or intend to take against a person
  • How the person is or may be upset with you or think(s) that your action was morally wrong
  • Why you believe you could be the AH (in the wrong)

You don’t want to write this out as a narrative. Keep it simple, and only share the necessary detail:

  • You’re asking for judgment on an action you took, not your entire relationship. Only include backstory that is absolutely necessary – try: “My uncle has a pattern of being secretive” rather than explaining past examples
  • Your title should be descriptive and specific. Consider making it the action you took followed by “because” and an explanation. “AITA for refusing to The One Ring to Mordor because I was scared?”

After you’ve drafted the initial post, you can then have your other characters respond, and vote. The subreddit abbreviates votes to YTA( You’re the Assh*le), YWBTA (You Would Be the Assh*le), NTA (Not the Assh*le – but the other person is), YWNBTA (You Would Not be the Assh*le – but the other person would), ESH (Everyone Sucks Here), and NAH (No Assh*les here). Your other characters can ask questions for more info, cast their votes, share their opinions, and spark discussions.

Essentially, this type of game gives you the opportunity to open dialogues with your characters about pivotal turning points in your narrative, approach it from every angle, and really dive into what makes your characters tick!

This game comes courtesy of one of our Discord users, bliss with 10 Ss!

Game 2: Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!

Writing games: finding a fly in your soup - Photo by Terje Sollie

Your character has splashed out for a fancy meal and is out, enjoying the atmosphere of the restaurant. Their meal is delivered, and there’s a very obvious dead insect sitting right there, in the middle of the meal they’ve been so excited for.

Now comes the crucial moment: what does your character do next? Are they composed enough to handle the situation gracefully, or do they react impulsively? Do they send the dish back with a complaint, or do they try to ignore it to avoid causing a scene?

More importantly, delve into their thoughts. What underlying values or traits influence their decision? Is it politeness, fear of confrontation, a need to uphold their image, or something else?

What happens next? Your character needs to interact with the server who brought the meal, and possibly the restaurant manager. What is your character’s tone and choice of words? How do others react to your character’s behaviour?

Also, consider the person dining with them. Does your character try to lighten the mood or let the incident overshadow the entire night? What does this reveal about your character’s social skills and their interest in the other person?

Write the scene imagining every detail, from the kind of food and restaurant that would excite your character, right down to the type of insect it would have to be to give them the ick.

Game 3: The Inside Story

Imagine you’re a talk show host interviewing your characters. This game is not just about interviewing your characters; it’s about diving deep into their minds, their actions, and their motivations.

Decide which character you are going to ‘invite’ onto your metaphorical show. Then, establish the context of the interview. Has your character done something heroic, scandalous, or thought-provoking? Are they promoting a cause, or are they there to discuss an event? The context will set the tone and direction for your questions.

Describe the setting of your talk show. Is it a serious, formal, newsy setup or a chill, relaxed, late-night chat show? Maybe it’s a podcast-style interview or even a heated debate. The setting will affect how your character interacts and responds. An example would be the difference between the setting of a serious exposé like the one you see in the film Frost/Nixon vs. the flashy extravagance of Caesar Flickerman’s interviews in The Hunger Games.

Now, frame your questions. Look beyond just what your character did, but really dive into their motivations and feelings. The questions should be designed to reveal your characters’ traits, motivations, and nuances.

When you answer those questions, try to capture your character’s unique voice. What does their choice of words, tone, body language, or even silence reveal about their personality? Do they tell the truth completely, or is there a hidden agenda that makes them intentional about the way they answer things?

After you’ve written out the initial responses, dig deeper. Get your interviewer to ask follow-up questions based on your character’s initial replies. Approaching the exercise twice means you’ll force yourself to really investigate your character’s motivations in a way that’s fun and can easily spark ideas.

Lastly, open the floor to your ‘audience’. A third wave of questions and answers lets you bring in other perspectives again. Not only can you introduce antagonism, but you’ll be able to formulate your protagonist’s responses in a way that puts them on the spot.

Game 4: XOXO, Gossip Girl

Writing games: gossip - Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

In every story, all types of conversations echo around corners and behind closed doors, often shaping how people perceive one another. So, for this writing game, you’re going to dive into the world of whispers and rumours.

Choose two minor characters from your story. These characters can be anyone from the cleaning staff at a hotel to high-ranking government officials. They have just stumbled upon some ‘interesting’ information about your protagonist and are now caught up in a gossipy tête-à-tête when no one else is around.

Begin by setting the scene. Where are these characters meeting, and why? Are they hiding behind a curtain, leaning on a counter at a local shop, or whispering in hushed tones in a corporate hallway? The setting will hint at the volume and urgency of their conversation, and how free and open they feel they can be with their gossip.

Now, let the gossip begin! What have they heard, seen, or (mis)interpreted about your character? What are the biases and preconceptions that colour this information? Write their conversation, revealing not just the gossip about the character but also their personal perspectives and assumptions. Remember, the way they perceive and discuss your character can say as much, if not more, about them as it does about your main character.

Lastly, consider the potential impact of this gossip. Will it spread further? Could it eventually reach the character they are talking about, or influence others’ behaviour towards them? How might your character feel or react if they found out?

Game 5: Solitary Confinement

Imagine that your character is locked in a room by themselves. The time they’re expected to stay in this solitary confinement can vary — several hours, days, or perhaps even weeks — the choice is yours.

During this time, your character is completely alone without any form of entertainment or communication with the outside world. This scenario will give you a unique insight into the inner workings of your character’s mind. The way they react to the loneliness and confinement can offer vital clues about their strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, and deepest fears.

What does your character do to fill the time? Do they pace restlessly or sit still in meditation? Perhaps they take the time to exercise or simply sit in quiet thought. The activities they occupy themselves with tell a story about their mindset and priorities.

What are the thoughts that run through their mind as they sit alone with nothing else to distract them? Do they miss certain people, ruminate over past events, or plan for the future? Their thoughts and emotions reveal their deepest worries, hopes, and regrets.

How does your character react as time goes on? Do they grow more restless or become more introspective? Their reaction to prolonged alone time can highlight their resilience, coping mechanisms, and emotional strength.

Finally, consider how their experience might influence their behaviour once they are no longer confined. Do they cherish their freedom more, or perhaps they come out of the experience with a newfound appreciation for solitude? The aftermath of the experience can provide compelling insight into their growth and development.

So there you have it; five fun writing games to bring your characters out of your mind, and onto the page! Remember, these writing games are meant to be fun, so be playful! Expand them, morph them, think outside the box, and you’ll see your understanding of your characters deepen, and your narratives grow from strength to strength.