April 3, 2013 by KWills
Characters are essential to any story. They give your readers a way into your world. And they are very hard to get right.
Beware letting things “just come”. A character arriving in a flash of inspiration is fantastic, but that is not an excuse to skimp on the character development. Characters are people, and people are complicated.
I have tried a few different methods of character building, from the super-detailed to freewriting character scenes to see what happens. I found the interview style questions too specific, and freewriting really isn’t my strong suit, so I have come up with my own character sheets. Instead of asking questions, I have given myself a series of prompts for an essay on each character. The “present” is always the beginning of the story, unless otherwise stated.
- General: Name, age, nicknames, species (where appropriate), nationality/culture (ditto).
- Physical: Appearance, including any physical mannerisms (distinctive walk, plays with hair when nervous, etc.)
- Where the hat hangs: Home, past and present. Neighbourhood and wider community/area. Include all relevant info.
- Work & education: Where, when and with whom.
- Relationships: Friends, family, lovers, colleagues, enemies, acquaintances – everyone. A brief rundown of who’s who in this character’s life.
- Beliefs & attitudes: Not just religious beliefs, but all the things that the character believes which affect the way he views the world.
- Personality: Either an official “type”, or a broad statement about chief characteristics.
- Likes & dislikes: Be as detailed or as vague and the character requires. Note any particularly strong feelings, one way or the other.
- Other: Anything else.
- Meta: Story-role, character development arc, goals, conflicts, resolution, etc.
This method works for me, because I tend to develop my stories plot-first. I know that some writers take the character-first route, and this list is probably insufficient for them. Are you a writer? How do you get to know your characters?