Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by Rebecca Chastain.
The Hardest-Working Character Template
The key ingredient of every great novel is unforgettable characters. Unfortunately, engaging protagonists and crafty villains don’t typically spring fully formed onto the pages of your masterpiece. That’s where character templates come in.
Creating a character template is as much about getting down the information you know about a new character as it is brainstorming and developing the character. Some characters will practically write their own profiles, but when they don’t (and most don’t), filling out the template helps you stack characteristics, desires, and fictional past experiences into the shape of a realistic person.
Never underestimate the importance of character templates. If you’re the type of writer who uses a template to keep track of only the basics, consider putting in a little more time; the deeper you delve, the greater your chances for unearthing character (and plot) gold.
Level 1: Cover the Basics
What does your character look like? When you start the first draft, it seems impossible to forget the eye color of your favorite characters, but after months or years of writing and polishing your novel, you’d be surprised how often you misremember. Your readers, however, will zip through your novel in only a few hours or days, and character inconsistencies will drive them nuts. My number one motto is “keep the reader happy,” so I like to have templates to reference. In this section, list:
- Eye color
- Hair color and style
- Other important physical characteristics (dimples, eyebrow shape, facial hair, etc.)
This is also the place for standard, unchanging facts:
- Birth date
- Birth place
Of course, your story might take place over several years, and things like age and hair could change. Note the changes and when they happen so you don’t accidentally describe your character’s blond curls when he got a buzz cut a month (and two chapters) earlier.
Level 2: All That Surrounds and Shapes Your Character
You character did not grow up in a vacuum, nor does she live in one (unless she’s a djinn). Now’s the time to rummage through her belongings, flip through her photo albums, and riffle through her memories. Level 1 answers were easy and short. These answers are probably going to be long, either bulleted lists or paragraphs.
- Educational background
- Work experience
- Parents, siblings, children (and other important family)
- Romantic relationships (past and current)
- Home environment (physical and mental)
- Music, art, and reading preferences
- Dress or style
- Favorite color
- Likes and hates
If you’re writing a character template, it’s safe to say you’ve already developed a general plot or at least have the first chapter mentally ready to go. So when you finish this section, it’s tempting to jump right into your story. It feels like you know your character inside and out. You’ve got her past, her present, and some inkling of her future choices based on her history. Resist the temptation to write just yet. Take your character to the next level.
Level 3: Buried Treasures