Character counts! Let’s face it, great fiction must have mesmerizing central figures. Take Forrest Gump for instance, there is something about him that moves me to so many different types of feeling. Of course, Forrest Gump is a 1994 American epic comedy-drama romance film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. Why do we want to stand up and cheer for this guy though?

Think about all the fears he had to overcome, the courage he had to muster, the sorrow he experienced, the joy he found, and all the other crises he faced. That’s what makes Forrest a great character.

If the characters in my stories don’t have formative moments like these, my book may not be worth reading. Not that each character must have each area developed, but a few should stand out.

Read through this list and ponder the characters you are developing.

THE MOMENT OF GREATEST FEAR: This is perhaps the most important emotional trigger, because almost all of our limitations, failures, frustrations and disappointments—and thus our secrets and vulnerabilities—can be traced back to or relate to some fundamental fear.

THE MOMENT OF GREATEST COURAGE: This may be physical valor, moral isolation or simply persisting in the face of some dread.

THE MOMENT OF GREATEST SORROW: Think of death, grief, loss.

THE MOMENT OF GREATEST JOY: It’s strange how nebulous moments of joy can seem—and what a loss. At what stage in your character’s life (or in your own) did the golden moment occur? What’s happened since?

THE WORST FAILURE: Ouch, I know, but don’t shun this moment; from a writer’s point of view, it’s golden (as are all our travails, sorrows, embarrassments and screw-ups—embrace them).

THE MOMENT OF MOST REDEMPTIVE FORGIVENESS: If you’ve been forgiven for some serious wrong, it’s not likely you’ve forgotten it. It’s permitted you to regain your place with some crucial loved one.

When performing this exercise, my students sometimes get caught up on trying to think of the “greatest” such moments. Don’t fall into this needless trap. Instead, think merely of one moment (presumably of many) of particularly strong impact in any one category.