Okay, this month is going to be all about the characters – hopefully. *smile* We'll see how many posts I can get out of this topic or not.
This week, we are going to break down the character sketch worksheet I use and talk about each section in depth.
The first section contains somewhat basic information, but it can have a huge impact on the story and your character.
- Character Name:
- Birth Date/Place:
- Character Role:
I always give my characters a first, middle, and last name. I don’t know why, but I do. Really, all you need is a first name and maybe a last name, depending on how major of a character it is. I also tend to fill in this area of the sketch last as I try to pick names that fit their personality – so I fill in everything else first then choose a name.
Choosing your characters name is something really important. Names can make or break your characters in my opinion. Find a name that resonates with your character. Look up the meaning and origin of the name. If the meaning fits (or even hugely contrasts for a bit of humor) the character's personality, you may have a good choice.
I write Fantasy and here another factor comes into play. Language and culture. How would a faery name their children? Or Elves? Dragons? Why would they choose such names? Do the names have any meaning (translation) and how does it affect the feel of the story?
As an example, the hero in my book, Burden of Prophecy is named Drache. "Drache" is actually a German word for "dragon". I chose this particular name because of Drache's personality. To me dragons are strong and confident protectors – which is the epitome of who Drache is. His middle name is "Akual" – I made this up. He has the ability to control water so I took "aqua" and tweaked the spelling, added an l at the end. TADA! New name, but it sounds similar enough that hopefully it still conjures images of water. His last name, I just made up on a whim and it just happened to fit. "Kestar" sounds powerful, I think because of the "star" aspect in the name.
How do you choose your characters names? What things do you consider when choosing - race, language, plot, personality?
This section is relatively easy, but for some it might require a bit of research for the story itself.
Continuing with Drache, he's a Prince. It was easy to decide on this title, but then I had do to a bit of research to learn about titles and how they work (as in passing down to children, inheriting the throne, etc). Obviously his class would be "royalty" or "nobility".
However, some characters don't have actual titles, but rather fit into a "middle" class of people. Here you can have a bit of fun depending on your type of story. In another fantasy story of mine, I have the following classes of people: Trade, Merchant, Military, and Nobility. You can choose and name your classes anyway you like and make up rules about how they interact (or don't interact) with each other. This can also require a bit of research for the story itself to learn more about how class systems work.
This can include a shortened form of your characters name (Like William to Will for example) or even just a funny name friends call your character (like "Spike").
Also decide who uses this nickname. Only family and friends? Does the character introduce themselves by their nickname rather than their full name? Why? Why is the important key here - how can you use the nickname to bring some depth to the character in the story? This is especially true with the nickname has a story behind it that can come out in the story at some point.
This section is pretty self explanatory. When is their birthday and where were they born. Now for some stories, it might not matter where they were born. In the stories I write however, it bears a major importance. The cultures I have created focus on birth place as this presents a status to others. Drache for example was born in Enthril. To other faeries in Enthril, this is not important, but it is to the other characters in the book from other countries that think anyone from Enthril is stupid and savage. (Also, to Enthril, anyone NOT born there is stupid and savage.)
This section is really for the author and some might think is unneeded. However, I am a fan of writing every single detail down, even if I’ll remember it off the top of my head. This is just in case I ever forget – or those times I might put the book down for a long time and come back to it later.
Roles can include "Hero", "Heroine", "Major Character", "Side Character", etc. In Burden of Prophecy and the 3 books that follow, I have different Main Characters in each book with the Main Hero and Heroine staying the same. Drache and Rosyani are the "Main Hero and Heroine" for the entire series but Letarri and Etharas are "Side Hero and Heroine" as they play an important role to the events in Books 1, 2, and 4. Farien takes over as "Side Hero" in Book 3 when the story changes location to focus on his role in the series arc. However you need to keep track of who is doing what and when, do it.
Come back Wednesday for the "Physical Apperance" section of the character sketch! Tomorrow is Teaser Tuesday so I'll be posting a scene from my WIP.
Today we are going to look at the second section of the character sketch I use.
- Eye Color:
- Hair Color/Style:
- Build (Height/Weight):
- Skin Tone:
- Style of Dress:
- Other Physical Attributes:
Now, this section is relatively easy to fill in. However, you can get quite detailed here. You can also add more sections if you need to or take out ones that you don't need. As a Fantasy writer, I might have some things here that other writers don't need, so don't feel like you have to fill out every area if you decide to use this.
Age – I enter in the age they are at the beginning of the book/series and at the end. This helps me to remember the time line based on how much time passes between the beginning and the end of the book. For example, I have one character, Karina, who is age 10 at the beginning of the series but she's almost 20 by the end of it. So I on her sketch sheet, I have "10/20".
Race – This could be something simple if you are writing a contemporary type of story. For fantasy however, it can get pretty interesting. The main characters in Burden of Prophecy are Traca faeries. Just a made up name I came up with to name their race. So here I put "Traca faery" then make a notation to see the setting sketch for their country. The other sketch contains details and common occurrences in their race. (Like light colored hair or horns on their head for example.)
Eye Color – Blue? Green? Purple? You can be as detailed here as you like. You can even mention eye shape or pupil shape if you need to.
Hair Color/Style – Long or Short? Blonde or Brunette? Curly or Straight? Again you can get a bit more detailed here as you can get really specific on length or color (strawberry blonde or hair hangs down to waist.)
Build (Height/Weight) – I always use specific heights and weights but you don't have to. I do just because it helps me visualize the person. Drache's sketch says "6'3, 200 lbs, athletic build, very toned and muscular"
Skin Tone – You can have a bit of fun here too if you write Sci-fi or Fantasy. I have one race of faeries that has green skin and another is silver that sparkles in the sunlight (like a diamond almost). You can also mention skin type here – do you have a teen that has acne? Perhaps a character with really dry skin that might affect the character as they live in a dry, cold climate. Any details you add will only help you portray your character in the story.
Style of Dress - How do they dress most of the time? Tunic or t-shirt? What type of shoes? You can also add notes about how they would dress at other times such as formal functions. If your character is in the Military or some type of warrior – mention what their uniform would look like here also. I also make a note about who or what to imagine. Drache's sketch says "Think of Phillip from Sleeping Beauty" to help me remember exactly how his tunic is styled. You can also use this section to mention any jewelry the character might wear, you can make Jewelry/Accessories it's own section if that would be easier for you.
Tattoos/Scars – Explain where the markings are and what they look like. For example, if I were to mention my own markings I’d say "Cross with rose wrapped around it on left arm, Pegasus on right arm, moon on outside-right ankle, butterfly on inside-left ankle, dragon on shoulder blade; scar on left forearm from kitchen knife, scars on both knees from falling out of a swing" You can also explain why they got the tattoo or any special meaning it has.
Other Physical Attributes – This is where you can explain anything that wasn't covered by the points above. You can add details about wings or face shape or hands, etc. You can also mention posture here if you like or save that for another section we'll be talking about tomorrow.
Come back tomorrow where I talk about "Personality Traits". This section is more detailed and extensive, so it might flow into Friday's post as well.
Personality TraitsIt's Thursdays so it's time for the third section of my character sketch! Have you found the posts helpful so far? I hope so. This section is the hardest one to fill out compared to the rest. It's really intense and makes you really dig into who your characters are. Let's get started!
- Internal Conflicts:
- External Conflicts:
- Dialogue Specifics:
- Common Expressions:
This is a short blurb about the type of childhood your character had. I don't use complete sentences here, just jot down a few notes. Mention any 'backstory' points that you can use as flashbacks or conversation or suspense in the story.
This section can be placed under the Physical Apperance setting but I prefer to put it here as it deals with their personality. Here you can mention posture, stance, and any funny twitches they might have. On Drache's sketch I have "Confident - stands tall, perfect posture, often has arms crossed over chest; Kind Heart - gentle nature, always ready to hug his little sister; Strong - doesn't cry in front of others, hides emotions to be 'strong for everyone else'"
What is going on inside the characters head/heart/soul that causes them trouble during the story? This can be dealing with a death of a loved one or other tragic event. Explain the story behind the struggles or events the character deals with. Be as specific as you like.
This is where you can mention weather, other characters (aka the villian perhaps) that are standing in the characters way. Be detailed and explain why these things are effecting the character.
A character's education level and job can effect everything! This doesn't need to be too detailed unless you want it to be. You can explain how this will effect them specifically or just simply mention their career alone.
How do they talk/sound? Mention tone of voice and accent. You can also include how many languages they speak here if you want, or make that it's own section if it bears a greater importance. Also mention the manner of their speech - is it proper or common? Relaxed with friends but very professional around others? Polite, rude, sarcastic?
This is basically part of the Dialogue Specifics section, but I make it it's own section to help it stand out as you will use this often. What phrases or words do they use over and over again? A catch phrase if you will. Me for example, I say "cool beans" a lot so if I was making this character sketch about me, that's what I would put here.
This section can also be under "Physical Apperance" but I put it here only because for my characters and the world they live in, powers and choice of weapons can reflect the type of person you are. If you make up powers or new weapons, provide a brief description about them - what they do, how they work, etc.
Tune in tomorrow for the very last section!!
Misc NotesOkay, the last section of the sketch sheet is really simple.
Here include any extra information you might need to know about the character that you couldn't fit into the other points of the sketch.
If you recall on Monday when I talked about Character Roles and I mentioned having a Main Hero and a Side Hero? I use this area to explain what book in the series the character's role comes into play.
So for Farien that I said was a "Side Hero" - his Misc Note looks like this:
Hero (H) "Precipice of Hostility" Book 3
Side Character (SC) "Burden of Prophecy" Book 1 and "Vestige of Passion" Book 4
Where as Drache's (Main Hero) looks like this:
Main Hero (MH) "Burden of Prophecy" Book 1 and "Vestige of Passion" Book 4
Main Character (MC) "Tutelage of Mortality" Book 2
I can hear some of you going "What? I don't get it" But I know what it all means, and that's what counts right? *laugh*Basically all those notes do is help remind who's POV I'm working with and when. I'm in Farien's POV in Book 3 and in Drache's in Books 1 and 4.
You can use this space for whatever you like, this is just what I use it for as I make only one character sketch that covers the entire series. You don't have to do this and I know many authors who say you should update/write new sketches for each book in a series, even if you use the same characters. Whatever way works best for you. I just find it easier to have ONE sketch to refer to, especially since I write multiple novels at one time.
Now, once the sketch is done, I head over to my trusty avatar maker and make an image of the character! It's a lot of fun and honestly, I waste SO many hours playing with the avatar maker.
The main one I use is Doll Wizard but I also use Candybar Doll Maker. I posted the Doll Wizard version of Drache's picture below for you. Below that is Rosyani's avatar I made with Candybar. I prefer Doll Wizard as it looks less anime-ish, but both are really fun to play with.
Candybar Doll Maker
TimeslinesThe Muse Online Writer's Conference had workshop titled "Keeping Track of Characters in a Series" with Jim Overturf.
I'll be honest and say that the workshop was not what I expected, but the information was invaluble. In the workshop, Jim presented us with excel spreadsheets set up for timelines about your characters.
I never thought to use an actual time line, instead I just wrote random notes on the characters' sketches. However, having an actual timeline all laid out is a wonderful tool that I know recommend to anyone who writes a series - or stand alone novel for that matter.
I tried to create snapshots of the excel sheets but they didn't turn out too well, so hopefully you can still follow along with what I say. If I get the snapshots to actually work, I'll post them up in a later post.
The first type of timeline is for a single character. Make one for each of your characters (or give each character their own sheet in the same book if you want.)
Obviously, put their name on the top. There are five columns in Jim's version of the timeline - Year, Age, Education, Primary, and Secondary.
The year column is the years of your character life from birth to death. Like if I did a timeline on myself, I would start the year in 1984, when I was born. The age column marks how old your character during that year. I turned 1 in 1985, 2 in 1986, etc. Now you might think this is a bit reduntant since you already have the years listed, but it comes in handy. I mean, can you immediately think of how old you were in say 1992 without doing a bit of math on it first - everytime? Well, the age column helps with that. I love it because with my faeries and elves being so old, it really helps to keep track of how old they are and when.
The education column is where you keep track of what grade of school they were in, matching up with their age and the year of course. Pretty simple and helps to mark graduations and things like that.
Now, before I get to the last two columns, I want to take a minute to explain that in the timeline I use for my characters, I only have the age column. My fantasy stories don't really mention the exact year for anything. Not only do I not need that column, I wouldn't even know how to fill it in, unless I started making stuff up. I don't use the education column because my characters don't go to kindergarten or things like that. Their school system is set up completely different than ours. They don't have different grades it's just primary school and university, so I don't need that column. You can add or take away from this based on what you need.
Now, the Primary column is where you input the events that they did themselves or happened directly to them. This can include graduating from school, breaking their arm, getting married or divorced, etc.
The Secondary column is the best part of this timeline I think. This column is put those events that affected the character emotionally, spiritually, financial or politically. For example, his parens divorced, mom remarried, little sister was born, recieved an inheritance, etc. Basically anything that other people did, but still impacted the character on some level.
I can already see the value of having such a wonderful tool, especially for those that write series. By the time you get to book four, the timeline will make sure you don't forget that your character broke their left arm in book 2. Sure, you could just make a note of it on your character sketches or what have you, but a timeline is just so neat and organized. Everything is there all in one place! It's fantastic!
The other type of timeline, Jim shared with us in the workshop are multiple timelines or character tracking timelines. This puts your characters actions side by side with another so you can keep track of who is doing what.
I was excited when I saw this sheet! I have a part in Burden of Prophecy where the group gets split up. If I had this multiple timeline sheet when I first wrote it, it would have been SO much easier to keep track of everything.
You can do the multiple timeline in two different ways -- hour by hour (or even second by second if you need to) or by year. The hour by hour one is simple, list the hours that you need in one column and then have a column for each character involved. This will help you keep track of what your characters are doing at the same time - it's great to see it side by side even if you can't put it that way in the story itself.
The other multiple timeline done by year has the year, age, education columns like the single character sheet did, but instead of the Primary and Secondary columns, you list each character involved. What would you need to see side by side for years or even a life time at a time? This form is great for following lines of family generations. This lets you keep track of a few generations - up to the time your novel starts!
You can also substitute the characters for towns or cities or countries even. List major events that happened in those places - king was murdered, plague broke out, etc. Things that may have a major effect on the world your characters live in.
I hope I did this justice without pictures to show you, but like I said, if I get it working right, I'll post them up later for you. I'm so glad I was able to participate in this workshop. These worksheets will greatly help me with all my series. Imagine what they can do to help you too!
Let me know if you use these - any changes you made and how they work for you. Do you already make timelines? If so, what information do you put on them and why?