It seems the number one way you learn more about your characters is simply by writing about them. Unfortunately, when this process occurs while you’re writing your story, it can show. Awkward, uneven character development in your completed piece can be the result. One way to get around this is to write scenes with your characters that are not part of your story, but which nonetheless help you learn about them.
Here are a few writing exercises that you can do to help you learn more about your characters. These are also good for helping you past writer’s block, or for use as prompts in timed writing exercises. Each of these exercises is fairly general; you should use the specific traits of your character and story to fill them in and write a scene from them. Not all of these exercises are appropriate for all characters; for example, the lead in a fantasy novel will probably not be suitable for the exercise about building a website. If I can find any of the sheets where I did these, or if anyone would like to submit theirs to be posted, I will put up some examples.
Your main character has invited you to lunch. Where does he/she meet you? What is ordered? What do you talk about?
(This exercise helps you to learn more about your character through food preference–which can actually be useful in your story–and through casual conversation)
Your protagonist and antagonist are each required to write a letter of introduction for your reader, describing themselves, their goals and motivations, and you.
(This exercise gives you valuable insight into the way your characters think about and describe themselves)
It’s a Sunday afternoon and your character’s responsibilities are complete. What does he/she do to relax for the rest of the day?
(This exercise gives you a deeper knowledge of your character through hobbies/leisure time activities.)
Your protagonist and antagonist each write a letter to a friend or family member (or you!) about the other.
(This exercise helps you gain insight into how your characters view their opposition)
Your two main characters have to change a flat tire, in the rain.
(This exercise helps you to learn more about your characters through handling adversity–which can be very telling!)
Your main character invites you to his/her place for dinner. What sort of home does he/she have? How is it furnished? Any family, roommates, pets? What is served?
(This exercise gives you insight via a detailed description of your character’s home environment– which can be useful in your story–family, food preference, and any other details you work into it.)
Your main character decides to put up a personal homepage. How does he/she go about it? Does he/she have the skills to start building one, or will assistance be necessary? What sort of information will he/she want on it?
(This exercise helps give you a feel for how comfortable your character is with the technology that is becoming more prevalent in our lives. It also gives you insight into how your character sees themselves, through how they would like a total stranger to perceive them.)