It takes a lot of work to create a fictional person out of nothingness. I mean, it takes a lot more time and effort than the process of creating a real person. At least the actual conception part. The birthing and the diapering and the child-rearing and all that…so, let’s not stretch the metaphor too far.
It also takes a great deal of work and time to write a novel. Your brain is a magical bag of holding, but when you are juggling a dozen characters, a compelling plot and a couple of subplot, and trying to remember if you fed the cat before holing up at Starbucks, you’re bound to drop something here and there. You may forget what color someone’s eyes are, or how old your protagonist was when they made a deal with the devil for a joy-ride on a rainbow-farting unicorn.
In previous posts, I talked about exploring goals and motivation, as well as using Enneagram typing to give characters’ personalities a skeleton to build upon. In the last post, I talked about profiling a character to understand what really flips up their metaphorical skirt. Once I have all that established, it’s time to get practical and create a useful writing tool that’s going to help me get through this novel.
Each important character in my novel gets their own character sheet. Now, there are a wealth of templates for character worksheets out there. Just searching “character worksheet” brings up over a million results. I’ll share some that look promising at the end. As I’ve stressed repeatedly, I don’t worry about minutiae at this point.
This is just a snippet from the character sheet for Charity “Cherry Pie” Pierson, the protagonist of my 2013 NaNo project.
As your eyeballs are no doubt telling you, this section has the most basic physical information about her, a picture, her Enneagram type, and where she’s from. Depending on the type of book I’m writing, there might be other information that comes up frequently. For instance, I also am working on an urban fantasy series in which characters have auras in distinct colors. Certain characters with a genetic magical ability can see these auras, so I include the color of each character’s aura in their sheet so I can keep them consistent. Other things you might include in this basic info section are distinctive pieces of jewelry or weapons, scars, and tattoos.
I always try to find a picture that evokes the character for me. Sometimes I use a picture of an actor or actress, and other times I will search based on a distinctive feature. For Charity, I think I searched “girl with cowboy boots” just to see what came up. I ended up with a stock photo, but she looked just right!
Finally, I will write a short bio that incorporates all the ideas I’ve been brainstorming. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive biography. It may just include snippets of the past, but I try to paint a pretty clear picture of how the character became the person they are today. As I mentioned in the Profiling post, think about the events that had the most impact on your character.
I also write a section about the character’s personality. This is the personality section from Charity’s bio:
Her sister, Patience, is also an Eight, which led to most of their problems. The “breakup” has left Charity in a state of stress, and her temper is on a hair trigger these days.
Charity fears emotional loss and rejection more than any physical pain. In a single terrible night, she lost her mother and her father, who she loved more than anyone in this world. She even withdrew from Patience, only showing her weak spot when Patience poked at it to manipulate her over Andy.
The references to her being an Eight are from the Enneagram typing. As you can see, the writing here is not particularly eloquent. This is only for my reference. I think it’s important to include how the character relates to others, specifically the main characters with which they will interact in your book.
In addition to all the written information, I use this file to compile pictures that relate to the character. I am not the most visually creative person, and I have difficulty imagining clothes and locations without a reference. So I often search for pictures of items that resemble what I’m thinking about and then use those as references. (This is, admittedly, the most fun part of this process. It gives me an excuse to “shop” without buying anything!) Anything that relates to the character goes into this file. As an aside, I don’t know when this magical development occurred, but you can just copy-paste directly from a Google image search into a Word document without having to save it and then insert it manually.
As with all of my story preparations, this is a living document. As I write the novel, I will not only refer back to it, but may add information to it. For instance, if I decide halfway through the book that the character actually has a tattoo, no big deal. I try to find an image of what I like and add it into my file. I may also change information; for instance, if I realize that the timeline doesn’t quite work, or I want something to have happened at a different age.
These character files get combined into my concordance, which I’ll tackle in a later post. For now, start working on those dossiers and get ready to bring your character to life!
Be sure to check out the previous boot camp posts:
NaNo Bootcamp Rerunsby