This may or may not help (depending on how formal you are with the assignment), but I have had students create a "correspondence" between two or three characters in an author's work. The letters must demonstrate an understanding of the the character, his/her situation/conflict, the relationship between the characters, and, most importantly, must be interesting.
Some students do very well with this assignment; others are much more comfortable with the somewhat safer formal paper.
I use this same technique after we read a novel or see a play. I give the students two characters, and they have to write a letter (one way usually) between the two of them. For example, in O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods, I have them write a letter from Kathy to her sister, or visa versa. The student is free to pick the "time" in the novel. I then have them read their letters aloud. They often spark some very interesting discussions, and the students don't seem to be as intimitated as they often were when I asked what they thought of a character.