Part of the reason I started this writing blog was to organize the monstrous pile of notes I accumulated in college. So I've decided I'm going to start a collection of my favorite writing elements and exercises.
But first, I must give credit where it is due. I learned the following character exercise from the legendary Master Newel, creative writing teacher extraordinaire! Define the characters' PSP: physiology, sociology, and psychology. It's a great way to flesh out both major and minor characters.
By PHYSIOLOGY, I mean much more than their physical characteristics such as eye color, hair, height, or a petunia-shaped birthmark under their left armpit. I want to know their style of clothing and mannerisms. Do they have a tic, are they a frequent sneezer like Daniel Jackson in Stargate? Are they neat freaks constantly breaking out the hand soap or slovenly piglets who scatter crumbs in their wake? Do they have fifty piercings, tattoos, or none? Here's the most important question of all: why? Fleshing out the physiology can give you insight into the next two character sections.
By SOCIOLOGY, I mean the character's cultural upbringing, education and economic status. Were they raised in slums, suburbia, or in a palace sucking a chocolate-coated silver spoon? What level of education did they achieve? What was their family status--only child, adopted human with twenty reptilian siblings, neglected middle child in a set of sextuplets, etc.? What is their religious world view, if any? For example, do they believe in an afterlife, or do they even care? What makes them ashamed, what is taboo?
By PSYCHOLOGY, I mean their phobias, passions, and hobbies. What makes them tick? What's their biggest aspiration in life, to find the last twinkie on Earth or backpack in the Andes, or maybe just take over the universe? Do they have a temper or are they timid? Are they easily empathetic, or are they cold and distant because the tooth fairy skipped them as a child and they've held a grudge ever since? Given all these factors, how would they react if thrown into a lion's den? Would they cower in fear, tame the ravening beasties, or make fur coats? You get the idea.
*Now, I never use half the stuff I write down in this exercise in my actual novel, but knowing my characters' PSP helps me to round them out into more believable and unique individuals. Besides, it's fun!