In my earlier Character Charts post I pondered what should be included in a character chart. Well, in the month since then I’ve made my decision and developed some software to facilitate developing and using characters in stories.
The basic idea behind character charts is to help you, the author, create more complete, fleshed out, realistic characters in a shorter amount of time. To do this they ask you to think about a large number of attributes your character may have, and then write down your answers.
Most of the character charts I discovered on the Internet have two major flaws. First, they are designed to be printed on paper and filled in by hand (or at best used as a Word document template), and second, they are three, five, or more pages long. Valuable as they may be, the sheer size is depressing to a beginning writer like me.
Software to the rescue! (Hey, I’ve written lots of software so why shouldn’t I think that?)
My first approach was to try to convert one of the paper charts to a form on the Web. The result was big and ugly, both on screen and in the database that would be supporting it. I have an aversion to tables that have over a hundred columns in them, so I started poking at ways to simplify the database structure even if I couldn’t simplify the form itself.
That effort resulted in my creating categories of attributes. I’m currently using the following categories:
- Physical Description
- Character Flaws
- Speaking Voice
These categories more or less match the groupings I found on the paper charts. But then I ran into another issue: The paper charts don’t agree on which category a given attribute falls into. For example, does the fact that Joe hates Uncle Tom because he shot his dog fall into the Relationship category (Joe hates Uncle Tom) or the History category (Uncle Tom shot Joe’s dog)? And how would I design a form field to capture that tidbit anyway?
Don’t worry, I’ve come up with a solution. Each of the categories is a single, big field in the database. You can type whatever you want into each one. The only difference between them is that the form displays a different set of questions/suggestions/hints next to each one.
This allows the user/author to fill out the fields in his or her own, preferred manner. For example, the Physical Description field can be filled out Joe Friday style (“6 foot 1, 235 pounds, balding with a wart on left side of nose“) or more gracefully (“Bill is a 70 yo retiree, bald with a beak-like nose. He’s rather tall and lanky except for a bowling ball belly.“) Whatever floats your boat.
To me the biggest challenge is to come up with a good set of questions/suggestions/hints to go with each category. I have some already in place, but I suspect that experience will lead to changes over time.
Do you have any suggestions for me?