Character Creation and Character Sheets

When you think of a character for your new book, what is the first thing about him or her that pops into your mind?  Is it the color of his skin or hair?  Maybe it is his temperament.  Or it could be a peculiar mannerism he has.  Whatever it is, this is where you start developing him.

Harry Potter, blog.yam.com

Harry Potter, blog.yam.com

Ask yourself some questions about this character.  Every character, fictional or real, has a compelling need, something he feels he absolutely must have. One compelling need just about every human has is money. Not an unusual need, but a necessary one. How else will the bills get paid? Will he turn to a life of crime? Will he deceive others? Does he just need money to pay his bills, or does he need money because he is hooked on drugs? He could have an expensive habit, one that frequently requires large sums of money.

The question is, how far will your character go, what will he do to ensure that his compelling need is met?  Once you’ve come up with something that your character would do almost anything to get, other questions will pop up about that need. The answers to these questions only serve to make your character more realistic.

Below are a few examples of compelling needs.  Money has already been mentioned above.

  • popularity – Friends are nice to have, but is having a large number of “friends” so important to your character that he will break the law and/or deceive others in order to have more of them?
  • alcohol – Is your character an alcoholic?  Does he feel that alcohol is necessary in order for him to live?
  • drugs – The same with drugs.  Does your character have an addiction?  Or maybe your character makes a lot of money selling drugs to those who are addicted.
  • sex – Does your character have a compelling need to have sex with many different people?  If he is denied, does he go into a rampage?
  • power – Does your character long for power?  Will he sacrifice others and ruin their lives just to get the power he craves?
  • immortality – Does your character long to be immortal?  Does the search for the way to attain this rule his life?
  • violence – Does your character have a physical and mental need to be violent?  There are no minor disagreements in his life.  Everything is dealt with by violently getting back at those who he feels has wronged him.
  • love – Does your character have such a great need to be loved that he/she will do anything to get someone to love them?
  • to be right – Have you ever known someone who has to be right, even when facts that show him to be wrong are found out, he cannot be convinced that he messed up?  But this person’s need to be right is so strong that events are twisted to show how he is right regardless of what the facts say.
Oliver Twist, wikimedia commons

Oliver Twist, wikimedia commons

What about your character’s physical looks and personality?  Once you know what your character’s compelling need is, the rest of this may fall right into place.  If not, it won’t be that hard to come up with.

The physical appearance of your character is important, but even more important are the events that have made your character like he is. It isn’t necessary to write a biography of your character, but it is necessary to know a few things about his life.

Your characters need to be real people with wants, hates, loves, desires, anger, resentment and so forth. I don’t want to read a book where the characters are all perfect, nor does anyone else I know.

What does he do for work? Give him a job of some sort whether he is paid for it or not. If your story takes place in the past or in a different part of the world or universe, the jobs could be different from those available here on earth.

What does he do to enjoy himself? Remember, work and play are not the same for every person and are looked upon in different ways by different cultures. But just about every person finds some way to pass the time and enjoy themselves.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, wikimedia commons

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, wikimedia commons

Now you want to give your characters some depth. Pick out important moments in their lives – times challenges were faced and he failed, or maybe he succeeded. The impact the death of a family member had on his life. Maybe he was witness to a murder and was scarred by it permanently. Ask some questions about the past. Don’t be afraid to give your character obstacles to overcome. Your character’s life wouldn’t hold much interest if he never had any obstacles in the way of him achieving his goals.

Look back at your own life and the many things that have happened in it.  Think about the good times and the bad.  Think about the friends and enemies you have had.  Think about your boyfriends or girlfriends, husbands or wives.  Think about the disappointments you have faced.  Your own life is full of resources for you to pull from when developing your characters.  Change each situation to meet the needs of your book, but you may find that when you use instances from your own life, your character is so much more real to you and to your readers.

What is going on with your character in the present? Has an event occurred that brought drama into his life? How does he feel about important issues? Would he ever turn to crime? Would he ever betray those close to him?

What are his dreams for the future?

Who are his friends? Enemies? Lovers?

What are his religious beliefs? Is he afraid of death?

What are his moral beliefs?

Create a Character ClinicAnswer the questions that pertain to your character’s place in the story.  To learn more on creating believable characters, I highly recommend Create A Character Clinic by Holly Lisle.

Amazon link: Create a Character Clinic by Holly Lisle

Many writers like to use character sheets to help them flesh out their characters.  I find that many character sheets ask so many questions that you could write a book just by answering them.  There are details that you won’t need for every book, so you should only answer the questions that are needed for each character you create.

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

Character sheets are not necessary, but filling them out can be a great help.  Doing so might even add things to your story that you never dreamed of before.  I have included some links below that will help you out in this area.  Or maybe you will be inspired to create your own character sheets with which to flesh out your fictional characters.

Extremely Detailed Character Sheet Template

Character Questionnaires

Building Fictional Characters – This page is full of links that will help you to build your characters.

Recommended Article:
Choosing a Name for Your Character

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