Monday, September 26, 2011

How to Prep for a Book, Step 5: Character Sketches

This week is dedicated to preparing your novel before you start it, or “plotting.” The fifth step: character sketches.

A character sketch is when you write out all you can about your character: his dreams, his childhood, his favorite food, everything. There are hundreds of character worksheets online that are helpful for this, and I recommend trying a bunch of them to see what works best for you.

Character worksheets are fabulous – especially in the beginning stages – but they’re never enough for me. It’s good to know a character’s greatest phobia and her relationship with her parents, but a worksheet can’t predict everything you will include in your novel.

Example: I need to know how Tuccia, my main character, will feel when her best friend goes on trial for a crime she didn’t commit. How will this change her? Will she lose faith in the gods? No worksheet is going to ask that.

After I do my fun worksheets and get a good idea of the plot and how the characters fit into it, I open a word document. I write everything I can think of until the character takes shape. I’ll make a list of questions and try to answer them. I’ll include all the relationships she has with the other characters. I’ll have a page of her talking in the first person about what she thinks of the world. Whatever comes to mind.

Like the outline, this is flexible and I usually go back and change things. Personally, my characters are even more dynamic than my purpose

I would give anything to go back in time and make character sketches for Sacred Fire. I thought I knew my characters because I wrote down their age and hair color, but my beta readers kept asking me about their motivations and I couldn’t answer their questions. I had to make sketches, then go back and integrate the new information. It was such a pain!

Finding pictures of them helps too. 


  1. This is a great series, Teralyn. I always do character worksheets, too. I also include as much information about backstory as possible, and have a special addition to my worksheets that I call the "3-2-5" rules (there's a link on the Popular Posts sidebar on my blog). These help me go a little deeper to find things like motivations and character arc.

    But I don't really KNOW the characters until I start writing. It takes a few revisions to get them right after that, but a lot fewer than it would if I didn't develop them at all ahead of time.

  2. I just found your blog and I love these tips you give. Thank a lot for sharing! They are very helpful :)


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