Any writer or reader will tell you character development is a key component of any story. People want to read about characters who are likable and relatable. We want characters who make mistakes, but learn from them and move forward. We want characters who make us laugh and make us cry.
Character sketches are a tool I use during the writing process. Before I start a short story or novel, I create character sketches for the main characters. As I write the story or novel, I revise and add to these sketches as needed. I have ten categories for my character sketches.
Backstory (Your Character’s life before the story starts)
Goals & Motivations
Character Arc (How Your Character Grows)
These categories can overlap or may not be applicable in certain stories and settings, but they give me a great baseline for character creation and development.
Character sketches can also be used as a personal development tool. I recommend targeting one aspect of your life for the sketch (such as health, career, family, etc), but creating a general character sketch about yourself is fun and thought provoking too. Here’s an example of a targeted personal character sketch:
Character Sketch for Kristen Otte the Writer
Physical Description – 5’4, Brown Hair, Brown Eyes, small & skinny, but in shape
Personality – Type A so organized with lists and calendars, but likes to laugh and make people smile
Habits / Mannerisms – Chewing on my shirt collar, biting my fingernails.
Backstory – College graduate, child of divorce, high school basketball player, avid reader and writer since I was a kid, became a christian in high school
Worldview – People are good and will support you in your endeavors.
Goals & Motivations – To support myself financially through writing
Inner Demons – Fear of Failure
External Conflicts – Money for editor & design services, time to write
Character Arc – Keep writing, publishing and querying until I reach my goal. Learn from my mistakes and the process and move forward.
When you get to the character arc section, the character sketch becomes very useful. Use your sketch and figure out how you can move past your inner demons and external conflicts to grow, develop and accomplish your goal.
Whether you are a writer or not, character sketches are a useful tool. I encourage you to take some time and create one for next novel or your next goal!