Creating Characters Using Character Detail Sheets

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Let me start by saying that I read for characters even more than I read for plot. I love a book filled with characters that I want to learn more about. I want not only the main character(s) but also the supporting characters to be interesting, quirky, and capable of making me curious about their own stories.

So, one of the first things I did when I began work on A Gift of Wings was to create Character Detail Sheets. Who were these characters who would people my novel? What did they look like? What were their talents, their fears, their dreams? Since the novel is a fantasy, I also wanted to know what each non-human character’s superhuman talents were. And if they had wings, what color were they?

I started by creating a blank Character Detail Sheet template, and then I created a sheet for each character. The Character Detail Sheets helped me flesh out the characters, get to know them and their motivations, before I ever began writing the story. Sure, some pivotal plot points and scenes were already in my head—and jotted down in note form—but I hadn’t started drafting the actual novel.

Thesee are the items I included in my Character Detail Sheets:

  • Character Name
  • Age
  • Birthday
  • Eye Color
  • Hair Color/Style
  • Skin Tone
  • Height
  • Weight/Size
  • Identifying Marks/Scars/Sigils
  • Additional Physical Description
  • Wings
  • Voice
  • Clothing/Style
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Parentage
  • Siblings
  • Home
  • Hobbies/Interests
  • Pets
  • Personality
  • Self-Image
  • Beliefs
  • Hopes/Dreams
  • Fears
  • Skills/Talents/ Powers
  • Weaknesses
  • Tag Lines/Phrases
  • Other Comments

I did’t necessarily fill in all the blanks for each character, just the ones that seemed most important—and those varied from character to character.

When I started drafting the novel, I had a full cast of characters to draw from, and I knew them well. So, sometimes the actual writing felt like channeling as much as anything. Dialogue that I feared writing flowed from my fingertips to the virtual page without my even consciously forming it. I remember wondering how I was ever going to write the voice of my MC’s bubbly, smart-mouthed best friend. But when she showed up and started talking, the words were uniquely hers.

As I wrote and the characters developed, I updated the Character Detail Sheets. And as new characters showed up, I added a sheet for each of them.

In addition to helping me flesh out my characters, the Character Detail Sheets provided a valuable tool for reminding me of things I might forget. Were his eyes blue or gray? Was her hair curly or straight? If my memory failed me, I didn’t have to go digging back through my novel draft to make sure I didn’t commit any continuity errors with character description. (It makes me crazy when a character’s eyes change color part-way through a book—unless , of course, that color change is integral to the story.)

Every writer no doubt has his or her own tool for capturing character descriptions, but I’ve found that Character Detail Sheets work well for me. I’ve added several new sheets as I’ve been working on the second book in the series, A Gift of Shadows. I now have quite a “stack” of character descriptions in my “Character Detail Sheets” file for the books.

What methods do you use for creating, defining, exploring your characters?

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6 Responses to Creating Characters Using Character Detail Sheets

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great post. I also have character sheets. If an actor reminds me of a character, I include a picture of that actor. I also made a quick reference chart of all of the characters in my book, along with their hair colors and eye colors. I mention whether they are right or left handed.

  2. erinfarwell says:

    I need to keep better track of things, not just characters but places, and this is a great idea. I do keep lists of characters, their role in the story and how it relates to the story. Keep a list like this tends to help me notice that I like names that start with certain letters so I can mix things up a bit more than is my natural inclination.

  3. Thanks for following my blog. I really liked this outline of character development and am following you as well

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