It’s one thing to make a living, breathing world, it’s entirely another to make a living, breathing character. There are a few ways to achieve this, but one way to get the ball rolling is to develop a character sketch. After the jump is the one I have developed for myself over the years, and I’ll give some tips on using it.
Earliest Childhood Memory:
An Insignificant Event:
An Event They are Ashamed Of:
If Your Character Were Alive Here and Now….
What Would Their Favorite Movie Be?
What Would Their Favorite Book Be?
What Would Their Favorite Song Be?
There are a few things to consider here. Maybe you want the name to hold significance in the word itself, in which case I suggest a website like Behind the Name or Behind the Surname. I wouldn’t rely too heavily on name meanings though, but sometimes it can help. A better route is to think of the circumstances leading to your character being named. Was it their parents? Were both parents involved? Did adoptive parents name them? Were they born a bastard and thus named with the surname Snow? Thinking out your story before your story even begins on the page gives you a lot to work with later on, so always start before the beginning.
Your characters age at the time of the story. This has the easiest fill in the blank because the story dictates the age at which you start following your character.
What sex is your character, and what is their sexual preference? This can be as binary or as flexible as you want, but some of the details will shape how the character will act in the story. You can’t really make a demisexual female who has a string of one night stands without looking ignorant in the process after all.
What’s your character’s weight? And what are the circumstances leading to this detail? Do they binge eat when heartbroken? Do their genetics allow them to have too much metabolism so no matter what they eat they stay slightly underweight?
Describe what your character looks like. Take age, gender, and weight into account here. Go into real detail at this point. Is their hair curly? Can you see red glint in their hair when they’re in the sun? Get every little descriptor out here, that way you won’t contradict yourself later, and you won’t feel as tempted to give the full description within the book, because it kills all momentum. There are ways around this that will be discussed another time.
What’s their mentality and personality like? Do they suffer any mental illnesses? Are they cheery and optimistic? Do they put on a front for people? Are they the best friend you’ll ever have or will they look out for themselves first? Nail this down here and stick with it unless they have a major event that changes their mentality in the course of the book.
Give a biography of the events leading up to when your book starts. Name some key events that have happened in their life, especially anything that may be brought up as a plot point within your novel. Keep it mainly focused on events your character would remember in their old age. The things that sticks with them throughout.
Earliest Childhood Memory
Describe this from your character’s POV. Even if the story will take place in 3rd person, it’s good to get into the character’s mindset for this part of the sketch. Attach the emotion they felt with the story.
Again, do this in 1st person and describe it from the character’s point of view. Let the emotion and the characterization lead you through the memory. Allow your character’s memory to be a natural thing as well, so some of the details may be a bit wrong, and some of the emotion may become a bit exaggerated, but go with it.
An Insignificant Event
Describe something completely mundane as your character. This will help to write them later in different situations. The story will not get to be nonstop action and drama, so you’ll need to know their mindset at these times.
An Event They are Ashamed Of
This is the hardest for me to write, usually because I write darker characters to begin with, but keep it in first person and give them some real shame and regret here. This is pretty pivotal as well, because no matter what, your character cannot and should not be perfect. Their shame will lead to later bad decisions and this is how you can create multi-dimensional characters. They need flaws, so go as dark as you need to here, but please do not skip this or make one of those “not really a flaw/shame” type stories. Give them some pain.
What Would Their Favorite Be?
In the why section you can answer as the character or just describe the reasoning here. These steps are the least important, but it can help nail down their personality a bit more. Plus it can help later when you are stuck on a character. Not sure what they should be doing or saying? Go back to your sketch and listen to their kind of music. Go watch a movie they would. Even if their taste is wildly different than your own, nothing breaks writing block on a character quicker than getting back in their head.
Once you’re done with the sketch, remember the character is still yours. You make them live and breathe, so go back over it, pick something out, and change it. I know it sounds counterproductive but this step will help in the long run. Sometimes we create characters that we adore that end up hurting the story we’re trying to weave. When this happens, no matter how loved your character has become, they need to be cut, changed, or rewritten. Their name may need to change, or their personality may need to be tweaked. All these details need to be fluid, so the first thing you should do is change something about them. Show them who’s boss in a sense, even if that sounds ridiculous.
I hope this sketch helps as a foundation for creating better characters. Let me know in the comments if I missed anything that you would add, or even post your own sketch and we may critique it for you.
Thanks for reading.