Character Traits-Create Your Own Cheat Sheet

14 Apr

When writing a novel, sometimes you have a huge cast of characters to develop and then keep straight.

Something that helps me is to keep a separate document that contains all the information I know about each character.  This started back when I bought the Sailor Moon RPG book in my early middle-school days.  I wasn’t into DnD or table games or anything, but I just wanted all the pretty Sailor Moon facts and pictures.

One section of the book was all about character building.  It asked you to fill out everything from simple physical characteristics (height, eyes, body type) to personality traits (naive, funny) to dreams (wants, needs, wishes).  I must have created like sixteen new Sailor Scouts through that book.

Fast forward like ten years, and I still do this for a lot of my characters.  It might not be as extensive, but anytime I write a part of their back story or a personality quirk, I’ll add it to their file.

You can search for “creating characters” online to pull up some sample sheets.  Sure, the superficial stuff is great, but don’t forget some deeper questions like:

  • What was the best memory from their childhood?
  • What embarrassed them the most in high school?
  • What did they want to be when they grew up?  Why?
  • What clothes do they feel most comfortable in?
  • Who is their celebrity crush?  Why?
  • What is their biggest regret?
  • Who is their best friend?  How did they meet?
  • What couldn’t they live without?
  • What’s their deepest, darkest secret?
  • What scares them?
  • What’s their worst quality?

This also helps when I’m suffering from writer’s block, I’ll do some free-writing about the character I’m working with–maybe writing their confrontation with a high school bully or running into their celebrity crush.  You can learn a lot about your characters if you really work at it, and even if these are minor characters, they still deserve to be richly filled out.

It’s one thing to have a brooding, creative musician who cares more about succeeding than anything else, but that drive takes on a whole new layer when you discover he’s the son of a famous guitarist who had two platinum albums.

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