Friday, January 27, 2012

Writing 101: The Character Sheet

Every writer has their own little tricks, and I'm going to share one of mine. Every book has a main character, and sometimes more than one, but there's a whole host of supporting cast members who appear within the pages. Whether you're mentioning a character only once or more than a dozen different times in your book, you need to include them on the character sheet. It's not talked about as often as the outline, but it's probably just as important.



What is the Character Sheet?

I can't tell you how many times I've been in the middle of writing, only to have to stop and ask myself, "wait, what color were his eyes again?" I learned to create character sheets for all my books the hard way -- I found myself repeatedly combing through pages I'd written to find a last name, a physical description, some characteristic I assigned in the past and forgot in the present. A character sheet keeps all that mess straight, so you have one simple reference point any time you need to remember a full name, an eye color, a hair shade or any other pertinent information you've assigned to one of your characters.

What Goes on the Character Sheet?

The characters in any book help to make it great -- or bad, as the case may be. Characters that are believable and identifiable are the strongest, the ones who have flaws that others can relate to. Your characters need more than a name if they're going to jump off the page. Readers want to feel like they're a part of the story, and they can't do that without getting a sense of who the characters are. Show your readers what the characters look like, maybe what their favorite music sounds like, even what they like to eat if it's relevant to the story. All these little details are difficult to remember, especially if you're focusing on a complex plot. So why try to remember when you can keep them all on your character sheet?

Writing the Character Sheet

Every writer should write their character sheet in a way that's easiest for them to use. Mine are split into sections, and each character is listed by his or her full name. For the Deck of Lies, for example, I have characters sorted into different locations and categories: School, Family, Around Town, etc. Each character has a brief physical description, and in some cases I'll include what kind of car they drive and their clothing styles, along with other important information. When I'm looking for a specific character, I can just scroll through the list to remember whatever it is I've forgotten.

A character sheet is a great personal reference tool for writers, and it provides a means to strengthen each and every character who appears in any story. Writing is definitely time-consuming, but there's no reason you can't use tricks to make it a little easier.

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