Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Character Sheets: Greet and Meet Your MC



Hi all! So I'm thick in the middle of fleshing out a new world for my WIP. And I decided this time around I'd fill out some character sheets.

At first I thought, "Hmm, this feels like I'm applying for a job...for a fictional character."

Then I thought, "Darn it. This is making my brain hurt. Must...invent...personality traits...and...favorite colors? Gads."

And now, I'm loving it. It forced me to think about other dimensions of my MC's world I hadn't considered, like what gestures she has, her relationship with her society, and her goals in life.

Here's one sample of a character sheet I used. I looked at others but this was the one I liked the best.

Also, Adventures in Children's Publishing has some good worksheets on their sidebar.

Do you use character sheets? Have any good ones to share? Or do the idea of character sheets make you cringe?

Remember to take a minute to see this week's blog chain post on weird writerly habits by Laura Diamond!

59 comments:

Alesa Warcan said...

I don't use them myself (I just rely on a bunch of notes in which I sketch out the profile/bio and main facts)... but I have three writer friends who use RPG character sheets for all their significant characters.

You can find a ton of those at http://www.rpgsheets.com/

or to get a generic idea of what they are like look at this sheet from a generic universal system: http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/resources/CharacterSheet.pdf

Jennifer Walkup said...

I don't use them but they look pretty cool.:)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I use character sheets, but then go one step further.

I do a free writing exercise (from the book, GETTING INTO CHARACTER) which helps me understand my characters at a deeper level than the character sheets allow. And I come up with backstories that I wouldn't have otherwise thought of while filling in character sheets. Because it's time consuming, I only do it for the key players. By doing the exercise, I am then able to better identify the character's values, traits, and mannerisms (including gestures). Now I couldn't imagine doing characterizations any other way.

Theresa Milstein said...

Fun character sheet! In fact, I know someone like that.

I don't use character sheets. But I know so much about my characters, I could do one. Rather than write info down, I just think about him/her a lot. Past, motivations, personality, and so on.

Aubrie said...

This is a great idea! I should try these character sheets. :)

Candyland said...

I actually don't use one, but it's ironic because I'm writing about using one. I hear they're effective but I can't force myself to do it!!!

Clara said...

I don't use them, but this is so interesting Lydia, I'm definetly giving it a try!

Crimey said...

Lydia,
I love love character sheets. I've done a few and also free write from the character's perspective as well as a biography-form of my MCs. Good luck on building that new world for your WIP.

aspiring_x said...

i've never use one before, but you have me sold! copying and saving the sample now...

Karen Lange said...

I do use character sheets. It forces me to consider other traits which then helps my creativity.
Have a happy Wednesday,
Karen :)

Abby said...

Yes. The only one time I thought about writing a novel, I filled out some sort of profile for their characters. It didn't go very far when I went back to non fiction but I think I might dig it out later.

Melissa Sarno said...

I've never used character sheets but I feel like it's something that can only help you, not hurt. I'm meeting a new character right now so I am definitely going to check it out!

Joanne said...

Rather than character sheets, I keep a journal for each writing project. That's where I flesh out the characters, jotting down notes, traits, characteristics that I can refer back to as I write.

Sarah Mullen Gilbert said...

I love the character sheets from Adventures in Children's Publishing! Just started doing "worksheet" type things for my secondary characters to try and break them out of stereotypical roles. It amazes me how a small realization can lead to big changes!

Mayowa said...

Great recommendations Lydia. I have a few pages in my journal for each of my characters.

I do find that many things have changed from the original sketch by the time I'm done.

Cindy Shortt said...

I don't use them, but probably should! I sometimes like to cut out different images from magazines and put together a "visual character sheet", so to speak.

Faith said...

I've used them a few times, but usually it just feels like pulling teeth... and then I end up with a bunch of useless information I'll never use!

I've really enjoyed the worksheets included in Holly Lisle's 'How to Think Sideways' course -- she has us look at things like our character's life goals, what their biggest regret or disappointment has been, what they want from relationships, etc. Big picture stuff, but things that can directly affect a character's motivations over the course of a story.

It's a very different way of looking at character building -- but I won't say it's any easier!

Carol Kilgore said...

I use a mini-character sheet, but mostly I discover my characters as I write them.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I actually do use these from time to time if I am struggling with a particular character. But I'm wary...and this is why. 2 reason.
1. The first time I did this for a character, I created a monster. He never leaves me alone and demands a lot of attention.
2. When I was suprised by one of the answers it freaked me out a bit haha! Cause I should have known the answer right? I am creating them...nope I was shocked by the answers certain characters gave.
I'll have to check out the one you used and I don't have a link to the one I use, it's saved as a doc that I can print out whenever. BOO! If I find the link I'll leave it ;)
Glad you're getting your characters fleshed out, always so exciting.

Elana Johnson said...

I find character sheets suffocating. (Don't hate me!) I just can't do them. Mostly because I don't care about their favorite color. I find that kind of stuff shallow and uninteresting -- and I figure that if I do, then my readers will too. So why waste my time?

So yeah. I don't use them. I try to find more interesting character traits and focus on developing my character into a 3-D, relatable person. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. And I rewrite a million times before I figure them out.

Indigo said...

I've never used character sheets. Lately though, I'm beginning to think I'll be tempted the next book. It seems I waste an awful lot of time, going back into previous written pages looking for details I forgot along the way. (Hugs)Indigo

Kat Harris said...

I don't use character sheets. I like to fashion my characters after people I've met or encountered in real life. OR I'll flip through a fashion catalog and imagine what kinds of personalities might go with each face.

Lydia Kang said...

I should add (Elana's comment got me thinking) that just like research into a world you're writing about, that not all these details ought to be included in your writing (IMHO). It would be insufferable to shove all those details into the story.

Kind of like writing an historical fiction piece with obvious, huge, paragraphs full of pedantic info to prove you've done your homework.

And of course I don't hate you, Elana! I love seeing how people tackle these things in their writing, what works and what doesn't, and why.

:)

Jemi Fraser said...

I don't use sheets, but I don't outline either. I do keep another file open and add important details to it as I write. It usually ends of 2 or 3 pages for the entire book (all characters included) so it's not long - just a quick reference.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I don't use character sheets normally. But I do jot down some things about them that I don't want to forget or get wrong in my story.

Renae said...

I love this idea. I use a general outline of my characters simply because I have to have certain ideas concrete in my head.

But I could also see how they could make a writer feel boxed in. I give myself the freedom to change them up if I need to. As with everything else, every writer has their own way that works for them. Great post Lydia! I love seeing how other authors work.

Lisa Gail Green said...

If I were smart I probably would use them. I like being surprised by my characters in my first draft. That's part of the fun for me. I know I'm weird.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Ooh, I love that swirly, intense, breaking-your-imagination-WIDE-OPEN part that comes with fleshing out the world for a new story. LOVES that part!!!

Talli Roland said...

I've tried using them but they just don't work for me. I've found it much more useful asking myself what they want and why they want it.I find that helps shape my conflicts etc much easier.

But I do think they can be helpful at the 'getting to know you' character stage!

Kenda said...

I start out by journaling about my characters, trying to find out what they're thinking and what are their issues, then fill in the history and fine details with character sheets after. Thanks for the links. Very helpful :-)

Sharde(Shar-day) said...

The vessels in my brain would probably burst if I had to make one of those out. And that's no good for anyone.

I like to throw my characters into situations and flesh them out that way. It's fun and totally random. Granted it takes a few tries to get a natural feel, but still...

Nicole Murray said...

Actually I found a few decent ones. Mainly, I pass them out at my writing groups but did use them on my first WIP. I ended up realizing my WIP worlds stay pretty clear and detailed in me to not need the sheets much. They have been proven useful when I am having a hard time with a character or stringing some chapters in better order.

I'll have to dig them up and post them. Great topic as always!!!

Tahereh said...

hahah i love that picture.

boys: only the ones i cant have.

heheeee

Susan R. Mills said...

I don't necessarily do a character sheet, but I do write down as many details about my characters that I can come up with. Maybe I should look into using a character sheet. It could be beneficial.

Terri Tiffany said...

I have resisted them for so long!! I am glad to hear it took you abit to love them. I know for my next book I really should do it.

Munk said...

I use a spreadsheet so that it is all in one place. I often add phrases and mannerisms each of the characters use. In some cases, I create nicknames that only certain people use during conversation with that character.
Most of my characters not only have favorite colors, but are described with certain colors in mind. For instance, they may wear there color or live in a house of that color.
Some of this is captured in my bio-back story sheet, but most is in my head. Therefore... during re-writes I sometimes need to search on a character's name and ensure my descriptors are accurate, and not over used. I have even been known to heavily weight the descriptions of some characters with certain senses. I don't know if any of it works, but it is fun trying.
The devil is in the details.

Sandy Shin said...

I've tried using a character sheet before, but that was when I knew very little about the MC and filling out all the characteristics seemed forced and difficult. But they're definitely useful! I'm attempting them again when I know more about my MC. :)

DL Hammons said...

I don't use anything so formalized, but I do write notes about each of my characters and keep it in my reference book. Each manuscript has a corresponding reference book filled with facts, characterizations, timelines, etc.

Jen said...

Character sheets are so fun!!! What a great idea!!!

Saumya said...

Yes, I LOVE character sheets because they sometimes force you to add in details that may have been forgotten!! I also make a powerpoint slide for each character with a tiny picture (of a celebrity, someone I know, etc.) whom I want them to resemble.

Krispy said...

I like the idea of character sheets, but I can never do them. They sort of remind me too much of those teeny bopper magazines with stats of each boy in a boy band (those were the days!). So I guess I kind of agree with Elana in that they don't really help me see the person as a person; I just see stats.

I can't really fill them out until I've already gotten a good handle on the character.

Ruth D~ said...

You know, I used to make my elementary students do something like this, but I never have for myself... not disciplined enough, maybe? But being aware of the many dimensions of a personality is important when writing.

Heather said...

I just recently started doing a sort of character sheet and I was surprised by how much depth it added not only to my characters, but to my novel!

Erinn said...

THis is the EXACT topic my Mid week links is going to be on. Weird!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I really do like them. It is like a crossword puzzle!

Giles Hash said...

Character sheets are awesome. I used to use a giant, 20 questions sheet that made me think of important information for the character's personal life. Oddly enough, it didn't make me think about character background much.

Now I just use a short slap-sheet with name, age, physical description and a brief background. Then I manufacture important information as I write the book.

Cynthia Reese said...

Yep, I use them ... it helps me keep straight whether my hero has blue eyes or green, and it also helps me figure out more on who these folks are. After all, if I'm not interested in them enough to do a character sheet, then I'm pretty much going to be driven nuts by them after 80,000 words.

Hey, I left you a blog award on my blog!

Melissa said...

Don't hate me but...

I have no need for character sheets. My characters all just started talking to my head and I listened for several weeks and I know all the deep stuff, their history and all the superficial things like their favorite food/band/color. It's a lot of swirling information in my head but it's all there...

So I think character sheets for me are sort of pointless. But I find the whole thing intriguing anyways!

Melody said...

I used to make character sheets, and then for some reason I trailed off. I should start again, because they were helpful. (I think I got too caught up in age, hair color, eye color, height, athletic ability etc...)

However, what has helped a ton has been to research personality types and discover what my characters are. Then it's easier to predict what they'll do in given situations.

Jolene said...

I have character ramblings, not sheets. I do a little physical description, but each of my characters has a playlist on my ipod and when I'm stuck on the story somewhere, I'll open up my file of description and just start writing. Likes this kind of food, here's something funny that happened to them when they were young... anything. It certainly gets the creative juices moving.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I've gone back and forth with character sheets. Sometimes they're helpful, sometimes they just feel like wasted effort.

Julie Musil said...

Lydia, I loooove this worksheet you linked to. I'll use it myself. Today I began the snowflake for my next book, and it also forces you to think the story through, where it works, where it doesn't etc. I'm trying to avoid too much ugliness in revision.

Victoria Dixon said...

You know, I did initially and maybe that was a good thing just to "warm up the waters" a bit. But when I tried to really crack open the character and discover what made them tick, I found myself losing interest in writing the book. I know now, I'm not the only writer to discover that they can't map out too much without killing the book. I need the excitement, fascination and horror of discovery.

elizabeth mueller said...

Hi! Well, here's onethat will totally knock your socks off by Harley Palmer! Let me what you think of it!

Someday I will finish it. I will...
;)

Medeia Sharif said...

Currently I'm doing voice journals. I write as the character for 1-3 pages to get to know them better before I begin my draft.

Olive said...

Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I don't use character sheets, but I do jot down several notes on the characters, before I set off on the manuscript.

Olive said...

Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I don't use character sheets, but I do jot down several notes on the characters, before I set off on the manuscript.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

In my mg hf novel I wrote character descriptions before I began writing the novel. I go back to them and add details as I am writing, so I don't forget a detail about them...

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Elizabeth! That one was EPIC! I don't think I could finish it, either! But it asks a lot of interesting questions!

 
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