Writing Lesson 16 – Picking Ripe Characters

Stories Start on the Brink of Change

When you’re thinking about the characters for your story, choose ripe characters. Concoct a man who is on the brink of a choice. Or a woman who must make a moral decision, say between saving her job or exposing a lie. A ripe character stands on the precipice of a journey that will leave him a changed person.

Take the father of Nemo in the movie Finding Nemo. He was a ripe character because at the beginning, he obsessed over the danger of his son going off to the kindergarten school of fish and getting too close to the edge of the great, unknown ocean. He was ripe to lose his son because the thing he feared was only minutes away.

John Bunyan chose Christian as a ripe character in Pilgrim’s Progress. His burden of sin left him on the threshold of one of literature’s most famous journeys.

You can discover a ripe character of your own by asking some questions.

  • What is the one thing that this character will not give up?
  • What is his greatest fear?
  • What does he most need?
  • What would it take to make this character do something that he would normally never do?
  • What is the one thing that he will avoid at all costs?

These questions may help you to discover a character that is like an unstable element on the periodic table. Mix it with another element under the right circumstances, and a major reaction is underway.


  • Analyze The Wizard of Oz. In what way was Dorothy a ripe character?
  • Think about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. How was Alice a ripe character?
  • Ask your character the questions listed above.
  • In the comment section below, tell us how your character is ripe.
About Teri Dawn Smith

Teri Dawn Smith lives in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and tries to keep up with the holidays, quirks, and loyalties of her international family including her Canadian husband and three adopted Bolivian children.

Read more about Teri.

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