May 25, 2019, 08:34:47 AM

Author Topic: Character sheets (for highly developed characters)  (Read 616 times)

Offline Yora

Character sheets (for highly developed characters)
« on: February 27, 2018, 08:48:22 PM »
I fully admit that I am not at all well read in current fantasy books, and not really much in the old classics either. But one thing that I feel I am encountering a lot is casts of characters that are overwhelmingly very nondescriptive. There are a couple protagonists who have been interesting enough to draw so that they now have a recognizable iconic look, but mostly the only memorable thing about them is the things they did. Most protagonists I can think of are either men or women, have a hair color, are sometimes given a height, and a type of weapon they use almost all the time. When it comes to secondary characters things are even worse.
I feel that this becomes a problem later on when such secondary characters show up again later and you can only recognize them if you remembered their name or they are reintroduced by their occupation. I find it much more interesting when you can remember them at least as "that giant with the huge club" or "that assistant with the blue coat who constantly insults people".

Now that I am working on a plot and start to have some ideas which roles will have to be filled, I am thinking of designing multi-dimensional characters with memorable traits before working out any of their scenes or dialogs. The way TV shows design their regular characters before they write scripts for them. And at least now, I still feel the want to give this treatment to every character with a speaking role who appears in more than one scene.

The idea that I have is to draw up a little character sheet for each proper character who appears in the story and list all the traits that stand out and could make the characters memorable: Unusual height or built, memorable pieces of clothing, noteworthy weapons or pieces of equipment, odd habbits or forms of speech, catchphrases, and things like that.
When you do this with every character I see the potential of the story being populated by over-stylized carricatures. But I think that might not necessarily be bad, even in a work with a serious tone and otherwise realistic aim.
Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

There is nothing to read!

Offline Skip

Re: Character sheets (for highly developed characters)
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2018, 10:04:33 PM »
One tip I read about a year ago has stuck with me. Have your secondary characters talk to each other, without the MC around. That has helped me fill out characters. I look at what they notice, how they speak to each other, their body language, as well as the actual subjects that come up.

I don't often use any of these scenes, but it works better for me than character sheets. I kept trying to make them work, but it all felt so ... arbitrary. Remote. I get a feel for characters by writing them into scenes. So, I just took the time I would have invested in deep character background--say an hour or two--and wrote a scene or two instead. Some are stilted and don't work very well, but others really click. It's also a way to try out aspects of a personality--explore a prejudice, show off a talent for whittling, engage in slapstick. Since it comes outside the constraints of the main story, I can go in all sorts of unexpected directions.

In the course of this, I inevitably make some choices about appearance and mannerisms. Then those can go into a character reference document. I dunno. Maybe I just don't like to fill out forms. Also, whenever I do try making a character sheet, my brain immediately goes to this

I know I said blue eyes but I decided I want gray eyes.

Offline Not Lu

Re: Character sheets (for highly developed characters)
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2018, 06:47:03 PM »
Build a spreadsheet with columns for name, hair, eyes, personality, relationships, etc. Then as the story starts to unfold and the characters grow in personality, habits, etc. you can update the spreadsheet. When you edit you can go back and compare your notes to the character early in the book to see if changes need to be made for who the character became once you really got to know them.

Side note: I did a beta read for someone who had a minor character who went from "curly locks" to "straight black hair" to "balding pate" by the end of the book. I asked the author if the character had an aging disease. :)

Skip mentioned something that I've seen authors do that is very powerful in building the minor characters who don't have a point of view. Have several main characters interact with or observe the minor characters in meaningful ways. One author I read had a chapter from Character1's point of view who was talking to Character2. They were observing Character3 who was telling a story. The net effect was that in only one scene you learned about Character3 from three people (via internal monologue from the mc pov, dialogue from Character2, and the story Character3 was telling).

Offline NedMarcus

Re: Character sheets (for highly developed characters)
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2018, 01:23:40 AM »
Character sheets have helped me, too. Also assigning each character an astrological sign has helped. The most useful thing for me has been to understand their heart, their motivations and what drives them forward in life. Sometimes I write short stories based on characters I'm developing and that has really helped me understand them more deeply; however, it's very time consuming!

Offline cupiscent

Re: Character sheets (for highly developed characters)
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2018, 01:56:36 AM »
I find character sheets put me to sleep almost immediately, but that's me! Use 'em if they help.

Instead, I wordcloud for each character. I dump all sorts of concepts--physical descriptions, emotional triggers, driving motivations, first impressions, everything important--into a brainstorm, and then when I need a refresher on that character, I can just glance at that and see what leaps out at me. (Or update it if I feel the character is shifting as I write.)

Offline wl_khan

Re: Character sheets (for highly developed characters)
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2018, 11:26:25 AM »
I find the process of creating characters requires both "planning" and "gardening". I absolutely use character sheets that list details about my cast. It starts off quite simple name, details about their family, life, education level, interests and basic backstory. This is the planning part where I sit down and "plan" the characters lives.

At the same time I start working on plot, world building and general ideas for scenes and conflict. As I do this I get ideas for more characters as well as develop more depth behind the existing characters. This is the "gardening" aspect and I use it for two things:

1) Constantly refer back to my character sheet to make sure I haven't introduce any contradictions or "out of character" actions.
2) Add the new details to my character sheet

The character sheet is effectively a thesaurus I use as a reference. I find it indispensable, especially for large casts, but to use it effectively you can't just sit down and rattle off a list of characters and be done with it. It's going to continually evolve with the story.