I have a confession to make: I’ve been posting a lot about creating characters because I’ve been working on some software to support the character creation process, and these posts have helped clarify my mind about what the process should be, at least for me.
My process, so far, is
- Start with a germ of a description, in just a few words, i.e. A small child fascinated by a balloon.
- Give the character a name.
- Write a brief sketch of the character in just a paragraph or two.
- Create a short scene (I call it a vignette) using the character.
- Feel free to alter any of the above as necessary so that it all fits together.
- Try to find a picture of someone who looks like the character, to help strengthen the visualization.
All of the above is simply to nail down the character in my mind.
Now I’m starting to flesh out the character by creating a character chart.
I’ve studied several character charts on the Web, and what they all boil down to is lists of attributes that can be used to answer frequently asked questions about the character. I’ve grouped them as follows:
What does the character look like? Sex? Hair? Eyes? Apparent age? Actual age? Etc.
What role does the character usually take? (Selected from a list.)
Does the character have any attitudes such as superiority or paranoia? Any fears? regrets? etc.
Usually cheerful or moody? How about any strengths, weaknesses, virtues, or sins?
Skills, flaws, mannerisms, and so on does the character have? What sort of accent does he/she have?
How does the character think of him/her self? Is there anything he/she likes, dislikes, or wants to change?
Favorite food, music, color, sayings, expletives, etc.
Does the character smoke, drink, sleep around, play Sudoku? Emphasize the worst habits and any quirks.
Hometown, childhood, education, religion, etc.
Mom, dad, siblings, spouse, kids, extended family, relationships within the family, etc.
Job, employer, boss, co-workers, attitudes toward work, relationships with co-workers, etc.
Short term, long term, dreams, schemes, etc.
Problems, crises, problem attractions, reactions to change, etc.
Cars, instruments, pets, money, etc.
As you can see, the list is very long and tedious. (It was tedious just putting together the list of categories you see here!) In addition some of the categories are kind of vague, meaning it may be hard to pick the right category for a given attribute.
My suggestion is not to try to fill out this chart in advance, but rather to keep it for the character and add to it as you discover the character’s attributes while you’re writing. The main purpose is to make sure you stay consistent throughout your novel or series. Then if the question “is John older or younger than Marcia?” ever comes up you can refer to their charts and answer the question.
Do you use character charts? If so, are there any groups of attributes that I’ve missed? How much chart do you fill in prior to writing?