Characters Welcome

What is it about a book, that makes us want to read them again and again?  I believe its a combination of very good writing, well-developed plot and but most of all I think it’s the ability to create characters that are so realistic, we wish they were real so we could meet them in person.  One of my favorite authors is Iris Johansen { The Eve Duncan series} and have read almost every book she wrote that had Eve Duncan in it.  Why? because Eve is the kind of character you never forget.  I’ve learned a lot about creating characters from reading books by my favorite authors.  But reading about it and doing it is two different things.

Creating interesting and memorable characters is a learning process, one that takes patience, and a lot of practice and defiantly worth the effort you put into it.  Several years ago I attended a writers conference in Portland Oregon. It was the first one I’d ever gone to so I was a bit nervous.  But nevertheless, I signed up to meet with a couple editors to get some feedback on the novel I was working on. {which was still in rough draft form}  The first editor was a delightful young woman who was incredibly positive. She told me that she hated the antagonist in my story right off the bat but loved the protagonist, which is exactly the way it should be.   The next editor I met with was an older woman and after she read a few pages, she asked me if this it was a rough draft or if I had polished it some. I told her it was a rough draft, with a little bit of polishing.  She looked straight at me and said. ” If that’s the case why aren’t you published yet.?”  Her words shocked me to the point I was nearly speechless.  Until that moment I had no idea where I fit as a writer or if my stuff was even good enough to publish.   Sometimes we don’t realize, how far we’ve come in our writing skills until someone points it out to us.  It took years of practicing my writing skills, developing characters and reading a lot of novels before I reached the point I finally felt somewhat confident in my ability as a writer, let alone a budding novelist.

Every writer has their own technique and process for creating characters for their stories.  But regardless of the process, it’s essential to know everything there is to know about your characters. One way to do that is to create a profile sheet for each character. The profile should be so extensive that it enables you to know everything there is to know about your character from how they dress to their individual idiosyncrasies.   The more you know about your character;  how they think, respond to any given situation,  deal with stress, trauma, loss etc. . . will help that character come alive in your story.   I’ve been profiling my characters for a long time and developed a worksheet in which I can fill in all the needed information and refer back to it as needed.  Doing that along using with books on character develop { Breathing life into your characters by Rachel Ballon Ph.D}  I’ve been able to fine-tune the characters in my stories, breath life into them and make them come alive on the page.

By J. Wallace


Character worksheet.  

CHARACTER SKETCH WORKSHEET: The purpose of the worksheet is to help profile your fictional characters. and you’re welcome to copy and paste the worksheet information in a document for later use.

1.Character’s name: Try to choose a name that reflects their type of personality. Avoid using typical names. Consider doing a search through a baby name book or search on the internet for names and their meanings. Hint: You don’t want your bad guy’s name to mean something sweet or kind or the good guy’s name meaning something evil. Also, avoid using similar names or initials among characters it confuses the readers, try to avoid names that end in s.

2. Age. Is your character a: child, teen, young adult, adult, senior { exact age }

3. Physical appearance: Eye color, gray with blue tints, green with gold tints..Etc… Hair color such as salt and pepper, highlighted with blonde or red streaks etc. is their hair short medium or long and how do they style it.
Height, weight, large boned or petite, manicured nails or short ragged nails? Skin color: fair, freckled, tanned, olive-skinned, dark-skinned or black. Consider browsing through magazine or catalogs until you find a picture that fits the character you have in mind. This will help you identify specific details about your character physical appearance.
Do they have any kind of physical, mental or emotional handicap; such as an obvious limp, a missing hand, and arm, in a wheelchair or something not so obvious such as being deaf, being mute.  Do they have any kind of identifying marks such as moles, birthmarks or tattoos on their body? If so what is it? Where is it located and how many?

4. Background information: Where were they raised? What was their home life like? Did they have a happy childhood or not? If not why? Did they have brothers and sisters, if so how many of each? Were they poor, middle class, or wealthy? What kinds of jobs did their parents have? How did they do in school? Did they go to college, if so where and what did they study? What kind of job or career do they have? Do they like it or wish for a different one?

5. Personality type:  Personality type: Are they high strung, anxious, guarded, or calm and cool? Are they funny or self-deprecating?  Do they have any kind of emotional quirks or issues?   What are they like under stress or in a crisis?  Are they bold and assertive or soft-spoken Introvert or extrovert etc.

6. Mannerisms: What kind of facial expressions do they have? Do they stare, or avoid a glance from another character? Do they have nervous habits: such as tapping their fingernails on a table when they’re inpatient or anxious? Do they slur their words together, hide their mouth when they are speaking, tap their foot; pick their nails, etc..

7. Attributes: What’s special about them? What is their best quality? Are they loyal, honest, compassionate or consistently faithful? Etc…
8 Faults: What kind of weaknesses do they have?  Are they always late? Lazy, incompetent, greedy, conceited,  liar, bragging, prideful, gossip etc.   What is their greatest weakness or flaw? And how does it affect their life? Remember your character is not perfect; they should have some flaws and weakness that are noticeable to others.
9. Single, engaged, married, divorced or widowed. If they’re single do they have a significant other? If not why? If they’re married do they have children or want children? If divorced, do they still have contact with their previous spouse? Is so why? If not why? If they’re widowed what happened to their spouse and how long has it been since they died?
10 Daily life: What’s their personal life like? How do they spend their free time? Do they fish, hunt, sew, cook, volunteer, etc.. Do they exercise or sit at home and watch TV? What kind of hobbies if any do they have. Are they a morning person or a night owl? What kind of morning routine do they have? Are they grumpy or do they greet the day with a cheerful attitude?

11. Social life What kind of social life does your character have? List all of social activities they may be involved in such as political organizations, churches, gyms, fundraising events, book clubs, and volunteer positions. How is your character involved in these activities, what do they do and how well do they do it.

12. Career/job choice. What kind of job does your character have and why did they choose it? Do they enjoy their job? What’s the requirement for their job? {College education or specialized training etc}  Does their job require them to travel, meet people, and speak to large groups of people?