Character Sheets: What’s the Big Deal?

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I attended an RWA mini-conference this past weekend, and the subject of character development came up. Some attendees used character sheets; others didn’t, stating that they preferred to learn more about their characters through the process of exploration (i.e. writing a few chapters). Today I’m going to talk about the reasons why a character sheet might come in handy. 

Here’s a list of the information my character sheet contains:

· Full Legal Name

· Age/Date of Birth

· Height/Weight

· Eye Color/Hair Color

· Race/Sex

· Paranormal/Special Abilities

· Religion/Spirituality

· Place of Birth

· Place of Current Residence

· Parents

· Siblings

· Influential People in Character’s Life

· Pets

· Profession

· Hobbies

· Car Driven

· His/Her greatest pride

· His/Her greatest fear

· His/Her deepest longing

· His/Her pet peeve(s)

· My character will absolutely blow his stack if:

· My character would be totally shocked to learn that:

Many of the items on this list are simple physical things or characteristics that help me get a better sense of my character. But some of these are especially helpful when I’m in the plotting stages.

When first plotting a novel, I usually start out with a general story line but a good idea of one of my main characters, generally the hero. Using some of the items on this list, I can come up with the perfect heroine. How? I give her the qualities most likely to set my hero on edge. If I already know what will make my hero blow his stack, well then I can make sure my heroine does it. Smile I either make her his deepest longing or give her the ability to grant him that (say for example he subconsciously wants a family). But to get the heroine, he’ll have to conquer his greatest fear.

It’s my humble opinion that a character sheet is a great plotting tool. I usually fill out the character sheet before doing most of my story plotting. So if you’re looking for a way to better connect with your characters, or need some plotting help, I suggest trying a character sheet. Maybe it’ll work for you too.

So what’s your process for getting to know your characters better? Do you use character sheets? Why or why not?

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10 thoughts on “Character Sheets: What’s the Big Deal?

    Nina Pierce said:
    November 10, 2010 at 8:57 am

    As a pantser I cringed at the first three lines and had to quickly skip past all the information you recorded before my muse ran screaming from the room. My character sheet starts with a picture (because I’m so visual) and a name. I fill in characteristics and traits as I write. It used to freak me out that I did it “wrong”, but it’s how I roll and I’ve just come to accept that.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 10, 2010 at 9:02 am

      Nina, your comment made me laugh. Can you believe I actually used to think I was a pantser? For some reason I thought because I didn’t record everything that happened in every chapter that I wasn’t a plotter. I somehow ignored the pages and pages of story and timelines I made prior to starting.

      We all have our ways, and we have to be true to ourselves. (By the way, I start with a picture too. Usually a yummy picture of my hero that I’ll drool at for days or weeks until my story starts to form.) 🙂

    Alexis Morgan said:
    November 10, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I have character sheets I (try to) fill out on every character in my books, even the minor ones. I don’t go into a lot of detail, but do jot notes about special abilities, physical description, weapons preferences, which books they’ve appeared in, who their best friends are, etc. I’m currently writing in three different series, and it’s the only way I’ve found to keep everyone straight. I fall somewhere between a pantser/plotter. I start off by writing character sketches (about a paragraph) on my hero/heroine/villain. Then about a five page synopsis of the overall plot.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

      Wow, Alexis, even minor characters? Now that sounds like a lot of work, but if you’re writing in series then it’s pretty smart, especially if a minor character will later become the star of his/her own book.

      I too am in between plotting and pantsing. I start with character sheets for my hero, heroine and villain, and then start working on a premise, logline and general outline of events.

    Katalina Leon said:
    November 10, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I loved Nina’s comments and I’m somewhere in between the two of you. I make use of a cork board and pin photos of people and settings that evoke the mood of the story. I definitely have to write down a character’s age and eye color etc… because I tend to make changes mid-ms and that’s not good.
    The only difference is my characters tend to tell me who they are as the story unfolds. If I wrote a detailed character sheet first I think they would resent it and rebel. lol
    XXOO Kat

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 10, 2010 at 10:45 am

      I can understand that Kat. I’ve had a character or two rebel on me, and then I’ve had to go back and change things up a bit.

      I too use a cork board that I fill with pics of my hero and heroine. Somehow my heroes almost always end up shirtless. I wonder how that happens? *looks away with a blush*

    Shannon said:
    November 10, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Thanks for another great blog Rosalie. I’ve really enjoyed your subjects and have forwarded some to quite a few people.

    Have you seen Galaxy Quest? Every time I see a shirtless guy Alan Rickman’s voice pops in my head with, “I see you got your shirt off.”

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 10, 2010 at 11:11 am

      Thanks a bunch, Shannon!

      I haven’t seen Galaxy Quest, but I just looked it up on IMDB and it looks hilarious! I’ll have to check it out. 🙂

    Veronica Blade said:
    November 10, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for sharing. I’m bookmarking this. 🙂

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      November 10, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks Veronica 🙂 The great thing about character sheets is you can make them your own. Leave out what doesn’t work for you and add what does.

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