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Character Sketches

October 18, 2007

Do you ever wonder how far you should go with you ideas about a character before you actually dig in and start writing? Sometimes I completely ignore any character pre-work and just start letting the ideas spill through my fingertips and onto the keyboard. Other times, when I have a more specific goal in mind with a character, I find that I prefer to jot down some notes, make a sketch (not a drawing) of the character, and explore some ideas. Believe it or not, this can also be helpful in finding some direction for a budding story idea and provide the opportunity to think more about the back story and how it may affect the character you’re sketching and others whom he or she encounters in the story.

Here are some categories of things I have included while sketching up a character as well as an example of a sketch that I’ve done recently for a new story that I’ve just begun writing. I hope that you find it useful, and feel free to steal as many of these ideas as you like. I pray they’re good enough to be stolen. 🙂

  • The Givens
    These are the things that you almost NEED to know about any given character to even be able to put him or her on paper (or into your word processor). They give the general descriptive attributes of a character. Obviously, this sketch template is designed more toward a modern fiction character. You’d adjust these for using historical, science-fiction, fantasy, or other drastically different character.

    • Name
    • Age
    • Height
    • Ethnicity
    • Hair Color
    • Hair Style
    • Eye Color
    • Profession
  • Details
    A great deal can be said for the details. Knowing some of these things about your character can really help you get in their mind, understand how they see the world, and create engaging dialog, scenes, and descriptions.

    • Facial Attributes
      Here, you can lay out some more specific notes about the size, shape, color, texture, or other pinpointed detail about a character’s face.

      • Nose
      • Mouth
      • Chin
      • Cheeks
      • Skin condition
      • extras (e.g. freckles, dimples, moles, beauty-marks, and more)
    • Body Attributes
      How is your character built from toe to neck? Is she skinny, ample, fat, tall, short, gargantuan? Does he have broad shoulders or hunched ones. Are her arms long and lithe, or short and stubby with flying squirrel flaps?

    • Where does your character buy his/her clothes?
      This actually says a lot about the character and in most instances, you can take a day and visit the local mall to scout out potential duds for him or her.

  • The Weird Stuff
    For this, I recommend checking out my 100 Traits weblog to get a good idea of what I mean. These are the things that MAY really make your character pop. They will certainly create an intimacy between you and them. These are better laid out as questions you can ask yourself about the character rather than things you can pick from a list. I really recommend sitting at a crowded place (sporting event, local mall, orgy) and WATCHING people to pick some of these up. We all have our idiosyncrasies, but you can find some wicked quirks by looking no further than the mirror.

    • Behavior Traits: How does your character approach life? I like to break this down between nature and face. The nature is the underlying truth of the character, but the face is what others may see. This will help you distinguish between what the character says, thinks, and does.
    • Quirks: Like I said above, everyone has them. Maybe your character’s eye twitches when he or she lies. These add tons of flavor.
    • What does your character think about death or the afterlife?
    • Does your character believe in aliens?
    • Does the character put his or her socks on before or after their pants?

Anyhow, this right here should be a great start to get the feel for your character(s). I know that I can do a lot with a new character on far less than this, and when I think about my characters a list like this is going on somewhere in the background.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it and I encourage you to StumbleUpon Stumble Me!

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One comment

  1. What a fantastic post! I’ve bookmarked it for future reference… marvellous stuff! 🙂



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