Happily Ever Afters Are Just A Book Away

Happily Ever Afters Are Just A Book Away

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cast of Characters: Part Three

Once you've given your characters a face and a name...then what?

I don't know about you, but before I can write a book about someone, I need to get to know them better.
Hi there, character. Who are you?

How do I do that?

Well, when Merissa and I first started writing together (years ago), she introduced me to her Character Worksheet. It's ghastly long and in-depth, and it gives me fits every time.

When I start a new project and I'm all excited about my shiny new characters (especially since at this point they have faces and names), I pull up this worksheet and....groan. It's hard work. It makes me think about my characters. Who are they? Where do they come from? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are their flaws? What are their motivations?

Here's a peek at the form (I always insert a picture of the character at the top for reference):

Character Profile Worksheet

Working Title:

Story Setting:


Basic Character Statistics:

Socioeconomic Level as a child:
Socioeconomic Level as an adult: 
Current Residence:
Birth order:
Siblings (describe relationship):
Spouse (describe relationship):
Children (describe relationship):
Parents (describe relationship):
Grandparents (describe relationship):
Grandchildren (describe relationship):
Significant Others (describe relationship):
Relationship skills:

Physical Characteristics:

Eye Color:
Hair Color:
Glasses or contact lenses?
Skin color:
Shape of Face:
Distinguishing features:
How does he/she dress?
Habits: (smoking, drinking etc.)
Favorite Sayings:
Speech patterns:
Style (Elegant, shabby etc.):
Greatest flaw:
Best quality:

Intellectual/Mental/PersonalityAttributes and Attitudes:

Educational Background:
Intelligence Level:
Any Mental Illnesses?
Learning Experiences:
Character's short-term goals in life:
Character's long-term goals in life:
How does Character see himself/herself?
How does Character believe he/she is perceived by others?
How self-confident is the character?
Does the character seem ruled by emotion or logic or some combination thereof?
What would most embarrass this character?

Emotional Characteristics:

Introvert or Extrovert?
How does the character deal with anger?
With sadness?
With conflict?
With change?
With loss?
What does the character want out of life?
What would the character like to change in his/her life?
What motivates this character?
What frightens this character?
What makes this character happy?
Is the character judgmental of others?
Is the character generous or stingy?
Is the character generally polite or rude?

Spiritual Characteristics:

Does the character believe in God(s)?
What are the character's spiritual beliefs?
Is religion or spirituality a part of this character's life?
If so, what role does it play?


What does this character want more than anything? 
What are the external conflicts/obstacles?
What are the internal conflicts?

How the Character is Involved in the Story: 

Character's role in the novel (main character? hero? heroine? Romantic interest? etc.):
Scene where character first appears:

Relationships with other characters:

1. Character's Name: -- (Describe relationship with this character and changes to relationship over the course of the novel).
2. Character's Name: -- (Describe relationship with this character and changes to relationship over the course of the novel).
3. Character's Name: -- (Describe relationship with this character and changes to relationship over the course of the novel).
4. Character's Name: -- (Describe relationship with this character and changes to relationship over the course of the novel).

Major plot points of the story:

How character is different at the end of the novel from when the novel began: 

Additional Notes on This Character: 

Long, huh?

But I fill it out for every major character including protagonists and antagonists. Why? Because it helps me write better characters. They become believable people, not just one- or two-dimensional cardboard characters. As authors, don't we want to write people that readers can relate to, who make readers keep turning the pages to find out what happens to them?

Another thing that's really helpful for getting to know your characters is to interview them. The worksheet is really good for fleshing out all the characteristics of your character, but sitting down and interviewing the character will help you get a feel for their voice and attitude. Tessa Conte did a great post (here) on the Relentless Writers blog about interviewing characters.

So, character, tell me about yourself...

The idea of interviewing is that there's no template for it. You "sit down" with your character in an imaginary setting and talk to them. It's freestyle. You write the conversation as it happens, and it's driven by who the character is and what you want to know about them. So the conversation I'd have with Isaac, the hero of the first book in my historical romance (he's a 30-something former Civil War soldier and ex-gunfighter) would be vastly different from the conversation with Jessica, the heroine of the contemporary romance I'm writing (she's divorced, mom of two teen girls, the director of a hospital medical records department, and four months from turning 40).

A conversation with Jessica might start something like this:

Margaret sits in her office, at one end of the couch in front of a bookshelf full of her favorite books. Jessica approaches.

MM: Hi Jessica. It's nice to meet you. You want to have a seat?

Jessica's dressed in dark jeans, boots, a blouse and blazer. She takes a seat at the other end of the couch and turns to face Margaret.

JJ: It's nice to meet you, too.

MM: Would you like some coffee?

JJ:  Sure, if it's no trouble. Black, please.

Margaret goes to the Keurig in the kitchenette and brews two cups of dark roast and returns to the couch, handing one to Jessica.

JJ: Mmm. This is great. Thanks.

MM: No problem. You're a coffee lover?

JJ:  Yeah. Coffee, chocolate...all the things we shouldn't love but still do.

MM: Eh. Life's too short to worry about that stuff.

JJ: (groans) Don't remind me. I'm facing forty and kinda freaking out about it.

MM: Midlife crisis?

JJ: God, I hope not.

MM: Why not? Isn't it kind of a rite of passage?

JJ: A midlife crisis means I'm halfway through. I'm not ready to be closer to the end than the beginning, thank you very much. Plus, it's just embarrassing.

MM: And cliche?

JJ: Yeah. (laughs)

MM: Don't worry. I've done forty and it's easier than you think.

JJ: Not if my friends have anything to say about it. They've decided the only way to get my mind off turning forty as a single woman is to turn me into a project.

MM: Oh?

JJ: Yeah. A couple of them think I need to get laid. They think casual sex will loosen me up and make everything better. The other two think I need to find love again, and that'll set everything right. Ugh.

MM: So what are they doing about it?

JJ: Shopping for men. I'll give them one thing, though. It's definitely got my mind off my birthday.

Anyway, the point is, talking to the characters gets me comfortable and familiar enough with them so I can tell their story.

And in the end, isn't that what's important?


1 comment:

  1. Whew! That IS a long form, but great! I'm going to fill this out for my W!P