The Creative Writer's Toolkit: Writing a Character Study | Learn with Wattpad | Lindsey Summers | Skillshare

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The Creative Writer's Toolkit: Writing a Character Study | Learn with Wattpad

teacher avatar Lindsey Summers, Writer, Wattpad

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Generating Ideas


    • 3.

      Your Character


    • 4.

      Writing Your Character Study


    • 5.

      Wrap Up


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About This Class

Join Wattpad Star and author Lindsey Summers for a helpful, bite-sized class on writing a character study, an essential piece of your creative writing toolkit!

Starting with a blank slate is daunting, and in this class, Lindsey shares her favorite tool for overcoming writer's block and starting your writing process: the character study.

  • This is a creative exercise that will help you develop characters that feel fresh and true to your writing style.
  • At the same time, this is also a practical exercise, giving you an informed starting place for the rest of your story, poem, or novel.

Once you have a character study, you can use it to write whatever fiction you want!

This class will inspire you to look at your everyday encounters and simple interactions as helpful starting points for developing a unique character. It's perfect for everyone new to writing as well as writers looking to broaden their creative writing toolkit.


This class is presented in collaboration with Wattpad, the world's largest community for readers and writers. Looking for more writing classes? Check out more classes with Wattpad Stars, including Writing for Online Engagement with Rebecca Sky and Writing for Consistency with Ninya Tippett.

Meet Your Teacher

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Lindsey Summers

Writer, Wattpad


Lindsey Summers is a writer of The Cell Phone Swap and various other Teen Fiction hits on Wattpad and beyond. Her debut novel, Textrovert, will be published May 2, 2017. She lives and works in Los Angeles.

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Lindsey Summers. You may know me as DoNotMicrowave on Wattpad and I write The Cell Phone Swap. I've been writing on Wattpad for about four years now. I found all these people inspiring, how they wrote and how they told their story. So one day, I decided, with a little liquid courage, to start my story "The Cell Phone Swap" and I posted the first chapter and it just blew up from there. One of my favorite, actually, responses I got was that one girl, her mother had breast cancer and she was actually in surgery and during the surgery she read my story and it brought a smile to her face. That really touched me just to know that I helped someone through a really rough time. So today, we're going to talk about how I start my stories, some tips and tricks to get into writing teen fiction and also talking about characters and give you some ideas for a character study. Your project in this class is to create your own character study to help you in your writing. Usually, it takes a couple days or it can take even longer because you want to think about your character. I might have the physical description right at the top of my head but later on I'll think about their flaws, or different habits, or personality quirks that I didn't think of before. So, once you have this character study, you can use it to write whatever you want. If it's a short story, or a novel, or even just a poem, you can write anything. So, this class is for anyone who is new to writing or just wants to learn more about writing, just anything to start writing and getting into your characters. By the end of this class, you'll walk away with a better understanding of how to write your characters. I know it can be tricky and a lot of times overwhelming, but I'm hoping this will give you a clear understanding and maybe just a point of direction on how to do that. 2. Generating Ideas: So, I actually find a lot of my ideas from different interactions I have, or just from things that I've seen around. So, when I first started writing The Cellphone Swap, it actually started from an interaction I had. I was walking my dog, and there was this really cute boy ahead of me, and he had cell phone in his back pocket. It actually slipped out, and it was the exact same cell phone that I had, same color, everything. So, I picked it up, and I raced after him and gave it to him. We were kind of like flirting and stuff, nothing ever happened of it, but I'd always wondered what if we had switched cell phones, or what would have happened from this if it had gone somewhere. So, that was kind of my starting point for The Cellphone Swap. The two characters actually swap cell phones by accident, and they go through different text messages, and things like that. I think it's important to write about things that you know, or things that you experience because then you have a deeper understanding, and are better equipped to write about it. I think it's important to always just kind of be on the lookout for things. I know I'm a huge people watcher, I love just sitting somewhere in a park, and seeing someone, and kind of maybe making up their backstory about what they're doing, or, I was actually in line recently waiting for a taxi, and a man behind me, he had an eye patch on. We got to talking. He was really interesting, but even before I met him, I was thinking of a backstory for the guy with the eye patch, why is he in the taxi? What happened to him with his eye? Was it an accident, is he like secretly maybe, it isn't anything wrong with the eye, and he just secretly wants to be a pirate. I mean things like that, that you have to ask yourself or, I once saw a guy just sitting by himself on a park bench, and his headphones on, and he was like Xavier glasses, and looked really cool. He was Just kind of sitting there, and I was like, is he waiting for someone, or maybe he just had this really deep heartbreak, and behind his Xavier glasses, his eyes are all red, and he is secretly crying inside, and things like that, you want to ask yourself, and kind of think outside the box. So, the reason why I am always asking these questions, they are people-watching, isn't necessarily even to know these people's back story, but to really have a jumping point, and to get my creative process going. So, when I'm out, and I'm experiencing things and people-watching, I like to record my Ideas, usually I use my cell phone or I have a paper and pen handy, but usually it's with my cellphone, like I'll just take quick notes or be like, like for the eye patch guy, but eye patch guy, and then I put what I thought was behind his backstory, or just things to remember these ideas from, because I know I usually forget them by the end of the day. Usually, if I remember these certain people or certain aspects that happen even like weeks later, and it's still in my mind, that's usually how I know it's something that's a good idea if it's really sticking with me. If I forget about it, then usually I'm like, it wasn't that important, or it's words didn't stick out that much in my mind. So, I think if you're stuck, and having issues coming up with characters, or an idea for a story, I think a really good thing is just looking around at what you know you can do, even interactions people-watching. But also, think about your hobbies that you're in, or music that you're listening to, does one line really inspire something in you, make you feel something? Things like that, there's all around you, there's inspiration. If you feel there's not enough plot or conflict in your story, just remember that these notes that you're taking isn't the entire story, like your interaction isn't the story. What you're doing is just a platform, and a jumping off base. So, you can combine different ideas, different people, just combine it together to create your own thing. That's what is really going to make that story pop on the page. If you're wondering how to get started, I would say, go out and take some notes, maybe for. Promise yourself for the next two days that you're going to observe people, and you're going to write down everything that you see that you find interesting. These notes are going to help you guys start your story, and start to think about your characters. So, make sure you're really paying attention to the details and things that you find interesting. 3. Your Character: The number one question I get on Wattpad is, how do you start a story? I think it's a really great question because I know I had the same thing when I was first starting. I have a blank sheet of paper, but where do I go from there? So, using all these interactions that you had and pulling these ideas and then, you can create a character study and then start to put words onto a page. There are two frameworks to writing a story. One is character-based and the other is plot-based. A character-based story is about the characters or the people who are driving the story forward versus a plot-based, which is usually certain aspects of a story. So, you have a conflict that's then going to create this and it's driving this plot forward. For characters, it's about their personality really is the focal point of it. Personality-driven story can be someone who's maybe shy or they're really extroverted, or maybe they have a really aggressive personality or dominant, or maybe they're really submissive and they don't really want to go out into the world, things like that. I think part of a personality-driven story that can be a little bit troubling is keeping your personality throughout. But then, also how they're changing and evolving as the story progresses because you want to have a beginning point, but by the end you want to have a conflict resolved. So, in The Cell Phone Swap, my character Keeley is very, in the beginning, she's a certain way on her cellphone, but then, she's another way in real life. So, then, as the story progresses and in the end she realizes how her personality in the cell phone is really a part of her, and she integrates that into her real life. One of the trouble spots I find is that you can only, sometimes, if you use just one word for a character, for instance, if they're an angry character then your character becomes very flat because you're only using one word. So, you have to add multiple dimensions to your character. Your character isn't just angry and if he is angry, as the story evolves, how does that anger influence his interaction with other people? But then, also maybe if he is angry at someone, they get in a fight. Then, what happens? Is he still going to be angry afterward or is he going to be changing? Is he going to be realizing that his anger is part of the issue of his problem? So, things like that, that you're creating multiple dimensions. So, I'm not just a one dimensional person. I have many flaws, many good characters, not good characteristics. So, make sure that you're adding that into your own characters. So, that's actually what a character study can help you flesh out and realize your true character. So, you might be wondering how many characters you actually need. What I usually do is I do my heroine heroine and then usually, I'll do supporting characters. So, the people around them, for instance, my character in The Cell Phone Swap, they have their best friends. But they also have their parents and their siblings. So, you don't have to go in necessarily that in depth as your heroine heroine. But you want to be creating some kind of structure of who these other supporting characters are. If you're not sure where to start and are feeling a little overwhelmed by this, I would say just start with your main characters. Then, go from there. As you're writing your story, you can always add characters and you can even subtract characters. I know I've erased characters that I thought would fit in, but don't. If you're not sure about who your main characters are, I would say, go back to your story ideas. What is that main idea and character who is driving your story forward? So, that's going to be your main character. For instance, in The Cell Phone Swap, my main character is Keeley. She's the heroine and the boy she swaps cell phones with, Talon, is the hero. Then, her supporting cast around her is going to be her best friend Nikki and her parents and her brother, but the two main characters are Keeley and Talon. 4. Writing Your Character Study: What we're going to be doing next is writing a real character study. I'm going to walk you through the process of writing a character study. I'm going to be doing it based off of Keeley, who is the main character in The CellPhone Swap. So, at this point it's up to you. You can either use your notes that you have on other people that you found interesting, or if you don't, just dive right in. So, the first thing that I do when I start my character study is usually either a physical description or most importantly the name. So first, I would write the name. My main character's name is Keeley. When you're writing a name, I usually try to do something that I feel would fit their personality, and so I actually just looked on the Internet for girl baby names. I went through the list and I found one that I thought would stand out. So, next usually I write about their physical description, their hair color, things like that. So, Keeley is, she has dark brown hair. So, and then usually I talk about is it something, is it curly, is it frizzy, what kind of characteristics that make her unique to her character. So, it's long and it's straight. Then, I go into then like eye color, things like that. Is your character really tall or are they short? So, she's like 5' 7''. She has brown eyes. If you're having trouble coming up with what your character looks like, I would say, either try to picture in your mind, but if you can't then a great tool would just be the Internet. If you don't even know what color eyes, you can just look up to colored eyes, Google it, going to give you a list of all different types of, there's brown, there's hazel, there's blue, things like that. So, if you're having trouble, I would say, look it up or even just like ask someone. Be like, you like a person and how they look. Ask them, what color is your hair? What is this? Things like that. Also under Keeley, I would add body type. So, she's not athletic at all. So, I would put not an athlete. So, she's tall but she's not skinny either. I would say, she's about average. So, after description usually I get into their personality and who they are. I find this very important. This usually, actually takes me a couple of days to think about. All right. Kind of my baseline and then I'll add into it. So, personality, Keeley is she's a huge bookworm, but she doesn't like homework. Then, she's also a messy person where her brother is, her twin brother, is actually very clean and neat. So, she's kind of the exact opposite. So, she's not neat, she doesn't make her bed, things like that. Then, also she's a very laid back person. So, she like clothing lines, do things better like zippered it up or up tight, she likes things lose, her shirts aren't tucked in, things like that. So, next we then write about their habits and mannerisms and that can be anything from small little things that they do or maybe they always eat oatmeal every morning because they have a constant routine. So, for Keeley, when she gets nervous, she always twirls her hair. Usually when I'm taking notes, like if twirls her hair when nervous, things like that, I always make sure I'm putting why they are twirling their hair. I wouldn't say just twirl their hair because then usually halfway through her story I'll forget why are there twirling their hair. So, Keeley also, with her twin brother, she's very protective of him. So, I would also put that down and she feels a really great bond with him. As her twin brother she feels that she has not only look out for him, but also that they're in this together. So, I would make sure that you're somehow within your character, putting down who they are, and what they're feeling inside. So, if you're having trouble figuring out what kind of body language that your character would do, like Keeley with her twirling of her hair, I would say, study yourself. If you're in a situation, what do you do in that? Or I even a lot of times when I'm writing, I'll act out what I'm writing in the dialogue and how would I stand or what would I do in that situation? So, I think that's a great tool to use, is just to ask yourself what would you do? Okay. So, next I would get into the background of the character. So, for Keeley, she grew up in the same town. Her whole life, it's a beach town. As a child she was very afraid of things and so she relied on her brother a lot. So, I would just talk about you can even like, for instance Tallin, who is the main character of this CellPhone Swap also, he moved to this beach town from Texas. I find writing your background is really important for you as a writer because then you can know throughout your story where your character is and how they're making those decisions. It'll make you really consistent throughout. So, one thing I found in the background of Keeley was that with her relying on her brother so much, then now she's a senior, she's applying for colleges, so she has this fear of the future and that's how I got my conflict, it was from her background. She was so reliant and now she's entering into this new stage in her life where she's not going to be with her brother and how is that going to affect her. So background, I find really important. So, the next part I usually write is about the flaws of the character. So, for Keeley, she is, again, when I went back into personality, she's a messy person. But how does that messiness then affect her as a person? Keeley is very, she doesn't get her homework done on time. Like for instance she had summer work that she has to get done for school, she waits until the last minute. She tries to get her brother to help her or her friends but they won't. So then, that's how she actually ends up talking to Tallin, really connecting with him because he helps her on her homework. So, flaws can drive the story forward and it's also important to know so your character isn't just one dimensional. So next, after I have a general idea of Keeley in my mind, I have my physical descriptions. I have a little bit of her personality, she is messy. I see her room is kind of chaotic, but she has books stacked up for miles. So, now that I have a general idea, then I get into her internal conflict, and who she is as a person, and what she fears, and things like that. An internal conflict is important to a story because it's going to show you from the beginning of the story how your character progresses then to the end of your story. So, for Keeley, her internal conflict, again, is her fear of the future and not knowing with college coming up, what she's going to do. So, by the end of the story, she has a better understanding and she realizes that fear is okay, college is about exploring herself and that's what she realizes at the end. So, after internal conflict, I get into external conflict. But I find with these two, anything of this character study, you can do out of order, whatever comes to you first in your mind. But I usually do external and this I actually find some of the easiest to write about. So, because it's really about your story and how it's being driven. So, for Keeley, who's she end up swapping cellphones with, Tallin, is the arch rival of her twin brother in football. So, she now has this external conflict of her boyfriend is the rival of her brother. Is she going to tell her brother? What's really going to happen between that twin bond? So, at the end of the story, she ends up finding a happy medium with her brother and also Tallin. So next, after I have my character study, usually I'll go back and look at it. So, I have my name, which is fine. Then you might also obviously want to have, do they have a last name, does that name have its significance to that character, things like that. So, I have for Keeley, her last name is Bruer. Then I go, let's see, description, she has her hair, height, brown eyes, non athlete, average body type is, I would say, does she have something special about her like maybe she has like a mole somewhere. Maybe she broke her arm when she was in second grade and it sticks out funnier, things like that. Personality; she's a bookworm, doesn't like homework, not messy, casual and laid back. Habits and mannerism; twirls hair when nervous, protective of her brother. For me personally, I find the internal conflict and the external conflict the best parts. Where I'm going to get the most meat out of my story, I really reference back to those when I'm writing. So, maybe even for fear of the future, I'll add in how she changes that. Maybe she still is afraid but learns that it's okay to be afraid. That's my resolution, and keeping that resolution there is going to remind me throughout my story that oh, I need to talk about this, why is she afraid, and keep on adding it into my story. Your character study may just take a couple of minutes or can take longer. But for me personally, I usually set down, I'll usually have like the general description of them, an idea that I have, so description, personality, things like that. Then, as a couple days passes, I'll think of new things or I'll add in their internal conflict, external, those things, I feel, take a little bit more time to develop and think about. If you're having trouble coming up with different aspects of your character study, I think it's really great to go back into your notes that you previously had and see if there are certain aspects that you want to draw out of those and put into your new character. Again, don't be afraid to mix and match, take different aspects of different things that you've seen, and mash them together to create someone and something totally new and exciting. Now that we have our character study, we can go into our character based story and start writing it. Remember, the whole point of this exercise is to help our story because we are having a character based story. We want that personality to really drive the story forward. So, this is why it's so important to create our character study. 5. Wrap Up: Now that you have your character study, the question is what's next? What's next obviously is writing your story. So once you start writing, you can write on whatever you feel comfortable on, so if you want to write on wall pad, or if you want to just do it pen and paper, anything that you feel is best. After I create my character study and before I start writing, usually I'll decide a little bit about what's going to happen in the story. So for instance, in The Cell Phone Swap, I know that two characters are going to swap cell phones, but what's my end game, like what's going to happen at the end of the story? Obviously, they're going to have their phones back and their conflict Scribner are going to be resolved. So, I have those points in mind and then and once I'm writing, I'll make sure I hit those certain points within the story. When I first started writing The Cell Phone Swap, I just had one chapter completed and I didn't know what I was gonna do with it. I thought maybe I just post it somewhere, and so I decided to post it on word pad and then week by week, I would add another chapter and other chapters, so it was a serialized story, I didn't have everything completed before posting it. I think serialization is a good way for new writers because it's sometimes forces you, especially if you're having motivation issues, sometimes to make sure that you keep on writing and adding. I know there was long stretches where and I wouldn't write for three or four months and then I would get a lot of messages from my readers asking me, "Where is my update? What's going to happen with Keeley and Talon?", and that really motivated me than to dive back in, and especially if you're having these long stretches where you're not writing character studies are so important because you can do a quick run-through, and then remind yourself about your characters, and then go back into writing. I get a lot of questions asking me how I know when my story is done and I think for me personally in The Cell Phone Swap, I knew the end result of what the ending was going to be. So, really it was about trying to get to that ending and as soon as I got there then I knew my story was done. But if you maybe don't have an ending, I would say do what feels comfortable, are you meeting your internal and external conflicts? As soon as you hit those points, then you know it's time to end your story. When I finish writing the cellphone swap, it was over 150,000 words which is huge, and that's because it was a serialized stories, so it's adding a lot of cliff hangers and things like that to draw the reader's back in. But now that it's getting published, I have to change it around, condense it, and make sure that the story flows better. When I first started The Cellphone Swap, I had zero readers, zero followers on wall pad, it was just a story among other stories. Then as I was serializing it, it went on and on and it kind of blew up into something that it is now. I have over 76,000,000 reads on it. It would not have been possible to write The Cellphone swap without a character study. For me especially, I am all about the personality and how those personality drives your story forward, and so it was really useful to me to make sure that I'm hitting all my spots, and to make sure that it's flowing smoothly. So, now it's your turn, I want you guys to go out, observe the world, take notes, really see what's out there and what makes you excited. I hope you guys will share your character studies on skill share, and I think it'll be great to look over what you guys have created, and also we can help each other give each other feedback you know, maybe things that you're questioning about or not sure about, we can help together. Also be sure to add your wall pad username so that we can add each other's stories into our library's. Thank you for joining me here today, I had a really great time. The one thing I hope you take away from this class is to keep writing, and if you're scared don't be. Just try, observe, and then write what you see and hopefully you have really great characters. Bye