Building on my earlier Character Charts posts (here and here) I’ve completed software to facilitate the development of fictional characters (as part of my Framework Story Planner), to the point where I’m ready to show what it looks like.
When you select a character to work on you are presented with a screen similar to the image shown here. The character’s name and one-line description are always visible at the top of the screen, over a collection of tabs that guide you through the pieces of the chart. (Putting it all on the screen at once just seemed to be overwhelming to me, hence the tabs.)
The eleven tabs are as follows:
As shown in the picture, this is where you can change the character’s name, one-line description, and upload a picture. The picture upload has given me the most grief, but right now you can upload pictures up to 100K bytes big and no larger than 1024 x 768 pixels. This is done to limit the load on the server. Allowed image formats are JPEG, JPG, GIF, and PNG.
- Character Sketch
Feel free to describe you character here any way you like. I suspect most characters start out as sketches – the free-form idea of who the character is.
Here I’m trying to encourage you to write something using this character. Maybe a snippet of dialog will reveal something about how the character sounds, or an attitude or relationship to others.
- Physical Description
Now we’re getting into the guts of the character chart – with prompts. What does the character look like? Prompts include height, weight, gender, ethnicity, hair, distinguishing features, etc. This is still a free-form box, so you can describe how the character looks in your own terms (which might make their way into your manuscript, eh?)
This prompts for things that might reveal the character’s personality – things like cautious, brave, or reckless, introvert or extrovert, talents & strengths, dislikes & pet hates, etc.
Here we’re poking at what causes the character to get up in the morning, the overarching drivers. Note that there is also a separate motivation/goals section for your characters within the story planner to allow the same character to be used in multiple stories (after all, once you’ve gone to all this work creating a great character it seems a shame to not use it more than once!) You might consider the motivation/goals in the character chart as long-range, strategic goals, while those in the story planner as more immediate, tactical goals.
- Character Flaws
What good character doesn’t have any flaws? Even Superman has his Kryptonite. Here we prompt for any weaknesses, things the character is particularly unskilled at, biggest embarrassments, prejudices, etc.
While character flaws are big deals, the quirks can make a character fun to read and write. Does the character have any particular mannerisms? Tics? Superstitions? (I’m focusing on stories about magic right now so I included a question about magic, but feel free to replace it in your mind with your own pet topic.) This is also the place to list all the various favorites – color, music, food, etc.
- Speaking Voice
Do you ever find yourself reading a scene full of dialog and discover you don’t know who just said that? The purpose of this piece of the character chart is to prevent that – to give each character a distinctive manner of speech so that it’s easy for the reader to keep track of who is saying what. Prompts include accent, verbal expressions, vocabulary, even curse words.
As part of the effort to really flesh out this character you should explore relations with others. This includes family, friends, coworkers, enemies, etc. Also prompted here are how others perceive this character, and secret admirations and misunderstandings.
Finally we get into the character’s backstory. Prompts include home town, education, work history, lost loves, bullies, significant emotional events, etc.
As I mentioned earlier, the character chart can be accessed directly (from your character list) or within the context of your current story. This reflects my belief that the character informs the story, and the story informs the character. Do you agree? Is there anything else I should include?