woman in a library

5 Effective Strategies for Building Characters

Many people might think character-building is important only in works of fiction. However, characterization also plays a role in poetry. Whether you’re writing persona poetry—which adopts the voice of a character, often a celebrity or public figure—or striving to get more in touch with any poetic speaker, these five exercises in building believable characters can help.


1. Give your character authentic goals and motivations.

What does your character want more than anything else in the world? This question typically surfaces early on in writing workshops, and for good reason. When your character has a central ambition, it can help define key details like their actions, emotions, and moments with other characters. 


2. Get to know your character’s voice.

How does your character speak? This can be a question of tone: Are they folksy? Formal? Serious or light-hearted? Do they have a lot to say, or are they more reserved? This can also be an opportunity to explore if their voice is lower or higher pitched, if they have an accent, and more. Since dialogue adds intrigue and specificity to a poem, identifying a speaker’s voice is a strong place to start.


3. Allow your character to have realistic flaws.

No one’s perfect, not even in fiction or poetry. Of course, people forge a deeper connection with art when it’s realistic and authentic—and flaws convey this honesty. Balancing the negative and positive aspects of your character will help readers relate to them, as well as create opportunities for a strong character arc.


4. Flesh out your character’s backstory. 

Your character’s past helps define their present. Where did they grow up? What are their familial relationships like? Answering popular get-to-know-you questions about your character can make them feel like a well-developed, real person.


5. Explore your character’s worldview.

While it’s interesting to define what your character looks like and what hobbies they have, diving beneath the surface proves even more valuable. This can encompass political leanings, spiritual and religious identifications, causes they support, and core values. To put it simply: What does your character believe about the world? This will dictate how they live their day-to-day lives. 

Characters are the star of the show in fiction poetry, also called novels in verse. As a characterization prompt, try writing poetry from a fictional perspective.