Monday, May 31, 2010

Character Worksheet Templates

How many of you use character worksheets when you’re starting a new story? Do you find them useful? Do you reference them often, or do you fill them out and then never look at them again?

I use a basic template for my characters, and I do find them useful. The level of depth is different for main and minor characters, but I find that I reference them more than once while I’m writing my stories. In case you’re curious, here’s my templates:

Main Characters
Physical Description:
Personality Description:
Type of Neighborhood/Description of Home:  
Father’s Name:
Father’s Background and Occupation:
Mother’s Name:
Mother’s Background and Occupation:
Position in Family (oldest, youngest, etc):
Family Relationships:
Influential Person or Event:
Grade in School:
Attitude Toward School:
Favorite School Subject:
Least Favorite School Subject:
Favorite Sports:
Favorite Foods:
Dress Style:
Attitude Toward Religion:
Relationship with Boys:
Relationship with Girls:
Leader or Follower:
Strongest Positive Personality Trait:
Strongest Negative Personality Trait:
Consideration for Others:
How Other People See Him/Her:
Opinion of Self:
Other Traits:
Minor Characters
Physical Description:
Education Level and Grades:
Personality Description:
Dominant Characteristics/Traits:
Physical Tag (a mannerism or nervous habit):
Voice and Vocal Tag (voice pitch, frequently used word or phrase):
How Other People See Him/Her:
Opinion of Self:
Other Traits:

FYI: If you like these templates and want to use them, you can download a copy here.

All these details are good to know, especially if you have to set the story aside for whatever reason and you don’t pick it back up for several months or years. With these worksheets in place, you won’t need to reinvent all these details.

That said, I don’t think it’s enough. It’s like reading someone’s resume, actually. You’d never hire someone just by reading a resume, would you? Nope. You’d bring him in to interview first, so you can put a personality with the information on the page. And then you can decide whether or not to hire him.

The same thing is true in writing. I don’t think you can just start writing a character’s story with only facts in a worksheet to go by. You need to get to know him first, and there are many ways to do this.

I actually used to get to know my characters while writing the first draft, but it often presented too many surprises. I had to go back often to revise or rewrite before the first draft was even finished, because it was clear the characters needed to go in that direction. That drove me crazy.

Now, I do journaling from my main character’s perspective. I have her ‘tell’ me her story in her own words, as though she’s writing in her diary. This allows her personality to shine through, as well as her voice, mannerisms, quirks, and beliefs. It’s incredibly helpful.

For minor characters, I don’t do this kind of journaling. However, I can often glean information about them from my main character’s ramblings, because she often shares her opinion on various people and their actions. So, instead, I will focus more on the worksheet for them, and make a few additional notes here and there. It’s come in handy many times, because it’s often hard to keep track of who has what color hair or eyes, or what that person’s sibling is named.

So, while I find them useful, I also believe that they are nowhere near enough. Much more is needed in order to bring your characters to life. This is how I do it. What’s your method?


Kirthi said...

Oh, I use character charts, not worksheets. The really simple ones, this is a GREAT character chart though, wow! I should use this, thanks!

Tabitha said...

Thanks! I find these really useful because of the level of detail. It helps me to get a clearer image of my characters. Then, when I do the journaling, the characters take shape faster.

Anonymous said...

very cool tabitha! i had heard of these worksheets but never used them. i like the idea of charts too. i kinda start with a conflict/situation and I see characters that are going through it. one of them becomes my main character. i write about her in a musing way, just rambling and a lot of 'maybe she's...

as the story develops i discover more about her. i like the worksheet though, it would probably help me get to know my characters quicker.

great post! :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the detailed worksheet. I've only written one novel & it took over 5 years to get it right. I think perhaps in part it was because I didn't know to use a worksheet to help me know my character better. Next time I write a totally new story, I'm going to start with your worksheet and see if it helps.

Tia Nevitt said...

I used to do these, but I started keeping wikis for my novels and now I use it instead. It's a little disorganized, though. Sometimes I do have to track down things like eye color, so maybe I'll drag out my old sheets for this next story.

I set it up in Microsoft Word as a fill-in form. It's quite handy!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I actually spent some time writing out backgrounds for some of the characters in a new book I'm working on. I don't use a form, though. I just start typing away, anything that comes to mind about the characters and how they relate to each other. It's a lot of fun to discover them this way.

Renae said...

I love this chart! I always write up a rough paragraph with basic traits and info, but this is so much better! Thanks! Renae

Rebecca Hamilton said...

I don't use character charts. I'm too crazy for that. For me, characters show up. I get their personality before I get their name. I start typing and as I go they reveal to me who they are. And sometimes a minor character walks in and says "sorry, you'll have to throw any plot ideas out the window because my idea is better." I'm a pushover, so I tend to just go with what they have in mind, which is always more interesting than anything i had planned (which usually isn't very much to begin with.)

anyway, I know some writers who like the plot and plan and that includes character development, and they would agree with you on going a few steps further than character development worksheets.

Tabitha said...

Miss Ali - sounds like that's very effective. I'll sometimes mix the journaling and the worksheet together. Or, sometimes the journaling changes the info on the worksheet. It's interesting how our characters come alive, isn't it? :)

Natalie - I didn't use worksheets for my first novel, and my characters were all over the place. Then, I used only the worksheet for my second novel, and they were incredibly boring. :) Using the worksheet and journals together has helped me figure them out before I start on that first draft. They go much smoother now. :)

Tia - as long as you know how to find the info, then who cares how disorganized it is? :) I tend to fill in these worksheets, and then print them and lay them out on the floor. It gives me a high-level view of my characters, and I feel like I'll be able to see if there are any holes or inconsistencies in their personalities. I do this with my outlines, too.

Tabitha said...

Sherrie - this is very similar to the journaling I do. I just write anything and everything that pops into my head, but write it as though it's coming from the character. It's a fun way to explore, isn't it? :)

Renae - glad you found it helpful! The way I see it, the more detail there is, the clearer I see my characters. :)

PaintWithWords - this is exactly what I used to do, and it drove me crazy. I'm an organized and efficient person, and if I have to start over or rewrite too many times, then I'm more likely to tear my hair out and toss the whole project in the garbage. :) So I came up with this compromise, that uses both free writing and charts. Glad it works for you, though! :)

Marcia said...

I use these sheets too. Some characters just "appear" in the novel, but then they get a chart. I also make a chart for the book, with title, readership, estimated length, genre, main storyline (1 sentence), main theme (and maybe some secondary ones), setting and time frame. It just makes the book jell somehow, to do that. I really like "voice and vocal tag."

Anonymous said...

Never use them. I tried once or twice, but I kept leaving everything blank. The questionnaires weren't asking me about the things I found most interesting in my characters.

What I like to do is stream-of-consciousness writing in their voices. I let them talk about whatever they want, what's important to them, what they're afraid of. I get their voices down.

Vicki Rocho said...

I started making a spreadsheet for my characters, but it was haphazard at best. It could be awesome if I ever finish it the way it should be. It will include page numbers each character appears on...but it's not there yet!

Vivian Mahoney said...

Great character worksheet, Tabitha! I jot notes in a workbook and then start writing the story from each character's POV. It helps me figure out the right voice for the story and what makes each one tick.

Dr. Mohamed said...


This is a useful tool for writers; thanks for sharing. I'll post a link to this post on my blog. I think the writers/readers who visit will find the information instructive.



Kristine said...

What a good idea! I'm in the middle of a new writing project, and I'll use this tool.
Thank you!