Would you name a character Tundra?


How do you name your characters? Baby books? Online baby name sites? Do your character names have meaning? Do you fit a name to a character like a leather glove? Do you agonize forever over your character names or do they come easily?

Recently I named a character Tundra. Just as an experiment, to see what kind of character I would create based on such an….unusual name. It was very exciting! (not skydiving, but you know what I mean) I had this full blown image of this woman – her life, her posture, her way of speaking. All from a name.

How clearly can you see your characters?


Here are five names. Based solely on the name, use the Character Profile Questions below to create a character. When you read the name, who comes to life for you? 

▪ Aristotle Lutsky
▪ Kennedy McIntosh (a girl)
▪ Hank Walker Jr.
▪ Wynter Lockwood-Sinclair
▪ Juan Diego “Gato” Velasquez

Character is King

Character, character, character. If you’re writing a play your characters must be king. They are the conduit between your work and the audience. How much do you know about your characters? Do you know their background? Their personal beliefs? How does their personality find it’s way into the dialogue? How does their personality affect the conflict? Answer the following questions about your character:

Character Questions





Physical Attributes:

Best Personality Trait:

Worst Personality Trait:

Relationship Status:


Financial Status:

Level of Education:

Home Town:

Where They Live Now:

Living Environment: (how do they keep their home)

The People:

Family Origins:


Use Fear For Good In Your Work


What do your characters fear?

Fear is such a wonderful motivator for characters – with both positive and  negative connotations.  Nine times out of ten when a character reacts out of fear it’s going to be worth watching. Fear is captivating because it’s a primal human emotion: Do you know someone who won’t do something because of fear? Who won’t get on stage, or get on an airplane? Who won’t make life changes because they fear the outcome? And on the other side, do you know someone who works to counter a fear – a fear of turning out like their parents? Or a fear of becoming poor? And what about that climactic moment when a character decides to stand up and face their fear? What an exciting moment! When they stand up to their overbearing boss, or jump off the cliff, or walk out the door. The possibilities are endless. These are the traits that make characters three-dimensional and interesting.


It’s important to know what your characters fear, even if it never directly ends up in your script. It will definitely effect how they act in your work and how you write for them. Knowing what your characters fear will make your writing specific, and that never hurts. Take your main character and answer the following questions:

  • What does this character fear?
  • What is the origin of this fear?
  • How do they act when they think about this fear?
  •  How does the fear affect this character’s life?
  • Does any other character know about this fear? Does that bother your main character?
  • Will this character ever be free of this fear? Why or why not?


Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

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When: Tuesday July 15, lunch time.

Observation: Three boys, in the street, yelling out side the post office. They’re selling something – I don’t know what. Whatever it is, is $4. And they’re trying to figure out if the guy they just got money from, gave them $4.  (The Loonie is a dollar coin in Canada and the Twonie is a two dollar coin)

“He gave me two loonies”

“Then he didn’t – !”

“No – Two Loonies and a Twonie.  Two and two! We’re good, we’re good!”

Whatever it was they were selling, one of the ladies from the post office then came out and told them to clear out. The boys were apologetic and polite.

What you can do with it: Doesn’t this one write itself? What were they selling? Why were they so bad at math? And why would the post office lady shoo them off? Write the conversation between the three boys before they get to the post office to set up their wares, the conversation with whoever it was who gave them $4 and the conversation between the ladies in the post office as they watch the boys and decide to shoo them off. Have the boys been there before?

Of course that’s the realistic approach. Think about the fantastical approach. What fantastical thing could these boys have? What if the ladies in the post office were not just clearing the street but maybe were jealous of the boys? How does that change things?

Happy writing!


Orange is the New Character Development


Did you watch Orange is the New Black  – Season One or Season Two?  Are you sad that you have to wait a whole year for season three? Do you have no idea what I’m talking about – orange is the what?

Every writer should watch this show. Even if you’re not fond of the material or you think they got prison wrong, every writer should watch this show just to study the characters. Orange is the New Black is a character study brought to life.

The show takes place in a women’s prison. Over the course of the two seasons, you not only see what these women are like in prison, for a lot of them, you see who they were in their regular lives and how they landed in jail. It’s not always what you think (pay specific attention to Morello and Sister Jane) and it’s a prime example of how situation and location can change a person. This is vital for writers to know, be aware of, and use.

If you have access to Netflix and you have the chance, sit down and watch Orange with a pen and paper. Pick a character and study her as if you were taking a course on character development.

  • Who is the character? Why did you pick her?
  • What first impression do they make?
  • What assumptions do you make about that character based on how they act?
  • Who do they interact with in the prison?
  • Are they a dominant character or a subservient character?
  • If this character is dominant, how does power affect them?
  • With each episode, what details do you learn about the character?
  • Do you learn why they’re in jail? If so, does the reason surprise you or confirm your assumptions?
  • How does this character act in a desperate situation?
  • Do you empathize with this character? Why or why not?
  • Will this character survive outside of jail?  Why or why not?

Two Steps to Creating Specific Characters

I’ve always been a character writer. I love character development, my favourite theatrical experiences center on interesting, well-developed characters.

What is your favourite part of a play?

One of the reasons writer falters, certainly in a play, is because of one-dimensional characters. Characters with no life outside the play. Characters who are there only to serve the plot. Characters who only exist in an occupation – teacher….doctor…mom… (unless of course this is a specific theme driven choice. I have a play where the characters are numbered One to Fifteen) The more alive a character is on the page, the more they’ll come alive off the page.

How do you create specific characters?

Take these two steps and you’ll be well on your way to creating specific characters.

Give them a name. This is the easiest place to start. Even if that name never makes it into the script, the easiest way to visualize a character is to name them. A name is the gateway to so much information. I have a play called Sweep Under Rug in which there are two sisters named Miranda and Ariel. The names come from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The mother in the play is never seen, but is described as a drug addict and all around “bad person.”  

I wanted to provide a detail that showed a different side to the mother, since she can’t speak for herself. That side is a love of Shakespeare.  Yes you have to know Shakespeare to get the reference, but if you’re a director studying the play it doesn’t take too much research to find out where these two names come from.

Secondly, Miranda and Ariel are very pretty names. It’s even hard to say the names in a harsh manner. The world the characters live in is decidedly ugly. I purposefully chose pretty names for these characters to contrast their surroundings.

How do you choose names for your characters?

Character Specific Language. When you’re writing for specific characters you want to give them their own language. What words do they use? How do they sound? Do they use a lot of noises – umms, coughs, hums? How do they sound when they get emotional? How do they breathe? How do they respond to pop culture? Would your character swear or say “oh my gosh?”

Establishing a character language is extremely helpful to crafting character driven dialogue. In Sweep Under Rug the older sister Miranda is extremely depressed. She’s sad to the point that she can’t express herself fully. She doesn’t know what to say or how to say it.  To that end, she  is losing her language. She speaks in fragments. She doesn’t use complete sentences.

MIRANDA: Walls crumbling away. Crumbling.

She’s also a poet. In a couple of moments where she’s able to communicate, she shares her view of her world in a poetic form – it’s something specific and different from her world, it defines who she is as a character.

MIRANDA:  Getting worse out there. Anger under lock and key. One with Knife. One with Nail. Yesterday one just takes your stuff. Today you‘re dead. Today there is a never ending rain, never ending in your bones. Flood up to the ears, up to nose, up to eyes. It‘s the knowing we will drown. That‘s the worst part.  

If you just take these two steps with your characters you’ll elevate them off the page. You’ll make your characters come to life. And that’s going to make an audience remember your work.

Want to really learn about your characters?


You’re in the middle of a draft and you’re stuck. You want to work on character development. You want to work on the relationship between two characters.

Time to sit right down and write yourself a letter.

Letter writing is an excellent exercise. It’s one of those exercises that exists outside the world of the play, and yet can directly affect your knowledge and understanding of what’s going on inside a character.

The instructions are simple: take a character and write a letter from their perspective. Perhaps the character is writing to one of their parents, or to a loved one, or a best friend trying to explain something they’ve done. It can have something directly to do with the story, or maybe an event that happened in the past. Perhaps it’s a secret that the character is revealing for the first time. You could write a set of letters between two characters that show the development of their relationship. You could write a letter for a character to someone who’s not in the play, someone who left the character, or who’s recently died.

The possibilities are endless.

And of course, this should never be an exercise in futility. Get into the process and write a proper letter not just a punctuation-less text. Think about what paper the character might use. Stationary? A napkin? Or are they totally 21st century and only communicate via Ipad?

What does the letter writing process illuminate about this character?  Is the letter filled with lies? Is it neatly printed or scrawled? What gets scratched out? Does the character like or dislike the person they’re writing to? Is that clear or hidden?

Not only will you learn a lot about the character from the content of the letter, pinpointing the structural aspects will go a long way  to help you write dialogue with a specific and unique voice.

What’s the style of the letter? Is it poorly written? A lot of spelling mistakes? What is the character’s grammar like? Their vocabulary? Their language?

It’s amazing what a little letter can do….