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Developing Personal Characteristics for Your Character

What's In Your Character's Wallet?Some characters are shy or too private to get to know easily. One way to get to know your character and develop their personal characteristics is to use what I call the “What’s In” technique. Just ask the following questions. Think about the answers and take notes.

What is in his/her closet? What kinds, styles, and colors of clothing hang there? Any memorabilia stored on the shelves? Is the closet organized or chaotic? Wire, plastic, or wooden hangers? Are there dry cleaning bags? Anything kept hidden at the back? What about dresser drawers? What is kept beneath socks or winter sweaters? What sort of undergarments and sleepwear do you find? In what colors and fabrics? What do these spaces and clothing tell you about your character?

What is in his/her purse or wallet? Look in every pocket. Are there photos? Phone numbers? Ticket stubs? How many credit cards? What are their limits and balances? What membership cards do you see? Stores, restaurants, gym? Is there a library card? Security access passes? How used or worn are any of the cards? Did you find anything unusual? Is the wallet/purse always on your character’s person or casually stored? What is the quality of the wallet or style of handbag? What do these things tell you?

What is in his/her car? Start with make, model, and year. What color is the car? What color is the upholstery? Is it cloth, leather, or vinyl? Is the car messy or fully detailed? What’s in the glove box? The console? Which radio stations are programmed? Are there luxury add-ons like GPS, Onstar, satellite radio? What’s on the floor on the passenger side? In the back seat? How does your character feel about the car? Is it a tool or is it a status symbol? Are they regular about maintenance? Does the car have any mechanical or electrical issues? How common is the make and model in the same town? What can you learn with this information?

What is in his/her desk drawers at work? (If the character doesn’t have a job, substitute a junk drawer). Are there any office supplies your character hoards such as paper clips, pens, or staples? Where are personal items kept? What sort? What sort of snacks are in the drawers and how fresh? Is the desk shared or used only by your character? Is it organized or messy? Sit at the desk and describe all you see. Open each drawer. Look in each cubby. Examine the desk top and every item on it. What does your character reveal about personality and attitude about the job?

If you like, extend questions like these to other areas of your character’s life such as medicine cabinets, bedside tables, pockets, lockers, backpacks, whatever you can think of that might contain personal, professional, and hobby items belonging to your character.


What is the most unusual item in your wallet or purse? What does it say about you?

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6 thoughts on “Developing Personal Characteristics for Your Character

  1. Great article Robyn, you have provided a wonderful array of questions to help us get to know our characters better, and add a significant amount of depth to their personality. For me, the most unusual item in my wallet – an actual bill of some kind. For something that was ultimately designed to keep our money safe, it is amazing how often it never holds said currency 🙂

  2. My most unusual thing is probably a loyalty card for the Lego store. I think that probably says something about the shifting meaning of words like ‘loyalty’, as well as about me.

  3. Love the Lego loyalty card. Like Dave I never seem to have cash. And band aids are not a bad idea, lol. Probably the most unusual thing I carry is a collection of fortune cookie fortunes. Seems I throw them in my purse and forget about them. They breed at the bottom.

  4. The most usual items in my wallet are a small, broken, jade sword pendant and a key that could open anything from a desk drawer to an entrance to Narnia. What do they say about me? Probably that I should clean my wallet out more often.

  5. Well, I’ve since gotten rid of it, but I used to carry a photo of two Russians drinking with a cardboard cutout of Stalin from his 130th birthday or something. I just found it hilariously absurd. I guess it says I like Soviet aesthetic and Russian humor.

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