I have seen a number of “character planning sheets” some in courses I have taken and others in courses I have taught, but over the years found they all needed a bit of a refocus, to refine motivation as to why the character acts as he or she does.
This is the list of questions I came up with for my own character work sheets.
Who IS Your Character?
Plot should come out of character, evolving naturally from each character’s beliefs and desires. To understand your characters’ feelings, take a look at the events that shaped their lives. Look first at the character’s emotional life, then at world events they may have experienced.
Use the following interview sheet to get closer to your characters.
Remember, good characters do things for good reasons and bad characters do things for bad reasons, but all characters should have a reason to do what they do other than that you need them to do it at that time and place.
Fill out a sheet for each major character. Questions with a (*) must be answered.
- Name, date of birth and place of residence? (*)
- What does he or she want? (*)
- What stands in his or her way? (*)
- How will the character change by the end of the story? (*)
- What is the character’s reason for taking action? Note: His or her actions should be taken to get what they want, not by coincidence or “in the course of events.”
- What are his or her strengths and weaknesses? (*)
- What secrets does the character have?
- What childhood or personal events shaped the character’s life?
- What world events shaped the character? Hint: If your character was in one of the Twin towers on 9-11, that will affect him one way or another for the rest of his or her life.
- Physical description: (*) (Hint: Sometimes it helps to pick an actor to play the role, so you will always have a visual image of what he or she looks like)
If you keep these sheets on hand as your scenes develop it will help prevent you from giving them, as I have done, blue eyes on one page and brown on another.
* * * * *
Arline Chase became a publisher at Write Words, Inc. on Jan. 1, 2000. She is an award-winning author, journalist, teacher, and mentor to authors all over the world. Arline is a long-time member of the International Women’s Writing Guild and has led workshops at their conferences as well as workshops and panels at Malice Domestic and other writers conferences. She is a member of the Author’s Guild, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of American and the Eastern Shore Writers’ Association. You can learn more about Arline on her website.
A version of this post appeared on her blog at Write Words/Arline Chase on December 17, 2009[subscribe2]