Hello there, NaNoWriMo enthusiast! Whether you’re writing, thinking of writing, or just interested in how these books are made, you’ve made it to Part III of my Anatomy of a Novel blog series. This step is going to be the first part where I’m actually going to be doing the work along with anyone else at this point, as I’d had plans for parts I and II for awhile now.
This part is about defining your characters.
My writing world changed about 3-4 years ago when a buddy of mine sent me a character template after reading a very rough first draft of mine, and seeing a lack of any depth in my characters. I wasn’t offended by the comment. He was right. People have histories and those histories define our mindset and how we think about and respond to any external events. I would say defining who your characters are and getting to know them is the single most important part of this pre-writing exercise.
How I start thinking about this is I fill out a list of questions. I hope these aren’t copyrighted or anything like that, it was given to me labeled as Guillermo del Toro’s character sheet, and I will take it down or further attribute it if need be. There’s plenty of character sheets online though. Any good RPG will have a list of “twenty questions” or the like for you to make characters with RPG wise. Those will work just as well as this, but this is my preferred template. It’s very simple, but when it’s filled out, I usually have 3-4 pages of information on a character to work with. I often go back and revisit this, edit as necessary as sometimes when you get into the book, you’ll need more information or need to change something so it fits the story. This is all brainstorm material, not meant to be final.
GULLERMO DEL TORO’S CHARACTER CHEAT SHEET TEMPLATE
THINGS HE/SHE LIKES
THINGS HE/SHE DISLIKES
ZODIAC SIGN (Western)
ZODIAC SIGN (Chinese)
COLORS (wears, likes; symbolism encouraged)
FULL BIO (to start of story)
MAIN DRAMATIC MOTIVATION
CHARACTER CHANGE (arc over story)
Now I deleted things like Zodiac signs because that doesn’t matter to me, and the character change/arc I usually am thinking about and mindful of over my outline, and do those in tandem rather than filling all this out in advance. But I try to get this as complete as possible before I move to my next phase in pre-writing. If I know a character is going to be in at least 3 chapters worth of material, or will drive something very important, or has their own perspective especially, I will make one of these sheets for them.
I’m going to get to work on my main character for my next book, tentatively named Antony Lemkin! I hope this is as big a help to you as it has been for me.
And if you think the way I create characters might create something pretty cool, you may want to check out my forthcoming novel, which will be out in November, and I will have more information about soon. Stay tuned!