Friday Exercise: Creating a Comedy Character 4/5

Posted on 29 May 2009

I generally like working with a character’s insides first, because then the outer details write themselves once you start focusing on them. However, that does not make the details insignificant. Quite the contrary. Good storytelling is more about showing than telling.

The fact that a character chooses to send pink carnations instead of roses on a first date, says something about who they are.  The fact that they send flowers at all, says something. The fact that they have a perfectly repaired and cleaned 1983 Ford family car continues to reflect something about their inner life. All these choices create a vivid picture of a whole person so much better than simply saying, “He was poor but conscientious.”

For your comedy character it would be good to start a character bible. You will need a ring binder and a hole punch for putting printed pages into it. This bible will contain your character’s bio and the events in your character’s life. Every time you think of a detail about your character or something happens to your character, put it into the bible. That way you will be able to keep your character consistent in your performances, but also have a place from which to draw new material.

I once had an interview with Jim Henson Associates for a position in their online and computer game division. I was so close to that dream job, I could smell the blue fur. At the time they showed me the character bibles they had for each Muppet character. They were quite chunky!

For today’s exercise I suggest writing three biographical details about your character. However, don’t stop there. The moment you have any time, take a stab at all the details below.

Starting a Character Bio

  • What is your character’s name?
  • What is your character’s birth date?
  • Where did your character grow up?
  • What is your character’s ethnic background?
  • What was their mother like? What was her occupation?
  • What was their father like? What was his occupation?
  • Do they have any siblings? What are they like?
  • Any other significant family relations?
  • Think of at least one defining moment in their childhood.
  • What is your character’s education level? What did they specialise in?
  • What is your character’s occupation? Do they like it?
  • What is their job history?
  • What is their income level?
  • What is their current living arrangements? Small house, big apartment, living with someone…
  • Who are your character’s friends and what are they like?
  • What have their intimate relations been like and are they currently in a relationship?
  • What sort of lifestyle does your character choose?
  • What sort of clothes do they wear?
  • What’s their mode of transport?
  • What sorts of hobbies or sports do they participate in?
  • Do they have any pets?

This is truly just a beginning, but hopefully a strong enough one to get you going. Remember to get inside your character and their emotional world while writing out each detail. You may have a character who tells you she owns a villa in France, but you know she doesn’t have the means, so she obviously has a flat with posters of Paris pinned to the wall and pink frilly curtains on all the windows.

Peace and kindness,


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