Not all writers use character sheets, but continuity is a lot easier when you do have one at hand; at least for major characters in the story. There is no real need to write a whole backstory for a background character, even though I know how we, as writers, are tempted to make all our characters three-dimensional.
There are also as many ways of making character sheets as there are ways of writing. In this post, I will share how I go about it. The method is by no means set in stone, but it doesn’t hurt to look at some resources if you’re struggling with building your characters.
I usually start out with a summary of the character’s looks. For this, I’ll start by using Scrivener’s character sheet template (no, they didn’t pay me to say this, Scrivener is just really that awesome). Though I may not always complete the whole sheet during the “first round”, I do fill in as much as I can.
For some of the characters, I would search Pinterest for an image that kind of matches the pic I have in my head. Usually, these are models or actors/actresses that I don’t know — I very seldom “cast” an actor, etc. that I am familiar with. I may also use a reference picture for eye colour, hair, face shape, etc.
The character sheet on Scrivener is also quite basic, asking pertinent questions and I usually add in race, and disabilities or illnesses, and nationality.
At this time I usually don’t delve into the character’s history at all, but leave this for step two – the personality and background (or history).
Personality and background
“The character background is by far one of the most easily forgotten of character design, though it has a large effect on how your character interacts with others around them, and how they came to be who they are today.” – (Escamilla, 2015:1) 1001 Questions to Help Flesh Out Your Character, Christina Escamilla (2015) — Kindle version bought.
1001 Questions by Christina Escamilla is divided into the following parts: “The Mind”, “The Body”, The Soul”, Non-traditional Characters”. Obviously, you’re going to pick and choose from these questions and not answer all 1001 of them for every character! Some of them really are helpful in fleshing out your character, especially if you have an idea of where the story is going but still need to get to know your characters.
The most basic character sheet that I use looks like this:
- Character Name:
- Role in Story:
- Physical Description:
- Conflicts – Internal:
- Conflicts – External:
You can also always use the “Big-Ass Character Sheet” (which definitely does its name justice) and that can be found on DeviantArt.
Another awesome resource: Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card (2010)
Next time, i.e. Friday, I will show you how my character sheets look once done (though with spoilers removed) – both for an MC and a minor character.