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Character History: The Pivotal Moment

This is a deep dive into character construction. Written as a stand-alone exercise, and conducted as the 11/14/2020 writers' workshop, it's intended to help writers build the background of any of their characters. As is the norm for our workshops, we explored the concepts in the beginning, then gave participants about 20 minutes to pick the variables and write a scene.


Discover memories and motivations from the character's childhood.

The writing session could be the laboratory for a scene, it could just be an author's exploration of their protagonist.

Exercise Framework

Your current-day character (whatever "current day" is in your story) returns to a place that meant something to them growing up. It may or may not be the "hero moment," but it was pivotal moment in making them who they are today.

Paint the scene through their memory and show us what that defining moment was.


If you're looking for a fresh challenge, randomize the variables for the exercise. For your convenience, all you'll need is a regular 6-sided die. Otherwise, either choose your favorite or let the options spark your imagination.

Need a character? Start here...

While this is really tailored for the characters in your Work-in-Progress, we have a few alternate suggestions if that's not someplace you're ready to go...

  1. A farmer on a far off world growing a rare and expensive crop

  2. Someone in a café whose afternoon is interrupted by a loud crash

  3. A newly freed prisoner who is wrongly incarcerated

  4. A person with a super power

  5. An actor recruited to go under cover during wartime

  6. An adventure-seeker trying that one last stunt

Age "the moment" happened:

  1. Early elementary school (5-7 yrs)

  2. Late elementary school (8-10 yrs)

  3. Tweens

  4. Early teens

  5. Late teens

  6. Early 20s

Location "the moment" happened:

  1. Bedroom growing up

  2. School room

  3. Work room

  4. Sports field

  5. Forest

  6. Bedroom of friend or Significant Other

Experience "the moment" happened:

  1. Lost a fight (and vowed to get stronger, or get revenge, or whatever...)

  2. Self-realization ("Oh my God, I'm ___________!")

  3. Philosophical realization (not gonna make my kids go through what I did)

  4. Social realization (not going to be my dad)

  5. Witnessed something tragic

  6. Witnessed something triumphant

This exercise has been certified NaNoWriMo-compliant. It's also low in salt, high in protein and always fits into the USB port on the first try.

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