writing

A look inside my character sheets

Last week I gave you a look behind the curtain on how I go about starting a new book and what steps I take from the get-go. You can read (or re-read) that post here.

Today, I wanted to share with you a character sheet that I make for each of my main characters, and often at least part of the information for the side characters.

Over the years, I’ve tried lots of different character worksheets and decided that it was time to make one of my own pulling from the aspects of things I’d used in the past and tweaking it to add the things I, personally, needed most. Like a space for an image of the character. Just because I write the characters doesn’t mean I can ever remember what eye color I gave them, or if they have freckles or not. Doing a quick image search to find an actor or model who looks close enough like my character is just sort of visual refresher I need. Because honestly, making words go is taxing on the brain. There are a lot of things we need to hold onto. Writing some details down is one way I can tether it.

Okay, starting with the first block… the basics. That pesky detail of their name. You’d be surprised how often we authors can forget that detail. Or maybe that’s just me… I set this form up so that if this character appears in several books within a series, I can just list those books and add if they play the main character, returning, etc. Then basic details about them and their work, friends and their relationship status, if any.

From there, it’s the nitty-gritty of what they look like. Beyond the physical, do they have any ticks or odd habits, or unique style? Generating these answers before you’ve even written a single word can help formulate a character so that when it IS time to write, you have a much better picture of WHO you are writing so you’re not wasting several chapters just trying to figure out who they are.

The last block is the most important for your plot and, the most fun. Remember our first worksheet? Who is your Hero? Remember we gave them a flaw? Write that down here. Every character needs a flaw. It’s what makes them fun to write. It’s a huge driver of the story so it’s important to highlight. From there, I added the 7 deadly sins just for a bit of texture. Does your character exhibit one of these traits, even a little? Does that motivate some of their actions? You may never notice this trait in your writing but it may come through in subtle ways giving your character layers. Same for the Myers-Briggs scale. Just fun ways to give your character some more personality. If they are a J, for instance, how does that come through when you write them? Are they an extrovert or introvert? That will dictate a lot of their actions. For fun, I added horoscope star traits. What sign are they? What are the positive traits of that sign and what are the negative? All things to help you flesh the character out before you begin to write.

Then, the last entry and probably the most important. What do they THINK they want? What do they THINK will make them happy, versus what really will. This false goal will drive the first 3/4 of your novel so it’s important to be clear what that is going in.

An example of an early one I made for my steamy romance, The First 100 Kisses Chloe is TOTALLY a snarky Anna Kendrick type.

I make several copies of this worksheet and add it to my book journal and keep it beside me as I write/revise, as a refresher. Is my character still looking the same as I said they did? Have I suddenly given them glasses when they don’t wear them? Is the unique personality quirks that I gave them coming through? Am I showing their false goal enough? Did I decide to kill off a sibling once I start writing? (Write it down on your character sheet so you remember!) To this end, USE PENCIL for all your worksheets, because you may change your mind on elements as you work. By using a pencil, you reserve the right for the muse to change her mind.

Next week I’ll show you how I outline using the methods learned in Save the Cat Writes a Novel. Great book on outlining. Highly recommend it.

Danielle Bannister, Author and character maker

1 thought on “A look inside my character sheets”

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