A conversation that I’ve had with my fellow writers at work is the ‘outline vs winging it’ debate. I love this topic because personally, I am an outliner. But I love hearing about others’ writing processes. I think it is important to learn from other writers because there is never just one way to do something. Everyone has their own method of madness.
Unless it’s micro fiction or flash fiction, then I need to build the story on paper until it’s matching what’s going on in my head. For me, it’s a road map for the story. The methods of writing a paper were ingrained in from day one. The same goes for creating characters. Sometimes only one or two will show themselves to me.
So on the note of writers helping writers, I am willing to share the character-building template that I have been building over the years to help me visualize a character that might be in hiding in the back of my mind. For some, character creation can be either the hardest or easiest part, depending on the story.
Character’s full name:
Reason or meaning of name:
- Do they like it?
- What would they change it to if they could?
Reason for nickname:
- Do they like it? Why or why not?
- Who’s allowed to call them that?
Gender: ____Male ____Female ____Gender-fluid/non-binary ___transgender
Ethnicity : _____ African- American ____ Hispanic/Latino ____White/Caucasian ____Native American
____Oriental _____Middle-eastern/Eastern-European ____Eurpoean _____Other: ______________
Nationality: ___ American ___ Canadian _____German _____Irish ____French _____Spanish _____Russian _____Israeli ____ African _____Asian ___Australian ______Other: ___________
Religion: ____ Christian _____Jewish ___Buddhist ___Muslim ___Catholic _____Agnostic/Atheist ____Other: ________
How old does he/she appear: ____ Young ___ Middle ____Older
Height: ___ Tall ___ Average ___ Short
Body build: ____
The shape of the face: ___ Round ___ Square ___oblong ___ Rectangle ___ Heart ___elongated ___Oval ___ Diamond ___wolf-ish ___cat-like ____chiseled ___sharp ____jowly
- Color? ____ Blue ___ Green ___ Hazel ___ Brown ___ Grey/Green ___ Blue/ Grey ___ Grey ___ Black ___Other
- Shape? ___ Narrow ___ Triangle ___ Almond ___ Round ___ Hooded ___ Bedroom ___Cat like ___Jewell
- Size? ___ large ___ Small ___Beady ___Wide
- Distance : ___ Close set ___Deep set ___Sunken ___Bulging
- Glasses or contacts? ___ Glasses ____ Contacts ____ None
- Eyelashes? ___Long ___Fringed ___sweeping
Eyebrows (check all that apply): ___ Thin ____Medium ___ Full ___ Rounded ___ Arched ____ Flat/straight ___Hard-angled ___Soft ___plucked ___bushy
Nose: ___ Hooked ___Droopy ___aquiline ___Roman ___Grecian ___ Button ___Up-turned ___Snub ___Funnel
Complexion/ Skin tone: ___dark brown ___deep brown ___copper ____ (golden)honey ____amber ___cinnamon ___pallid ____pasty ___pale ___ivory ___porcelain ____rosey ___red ____florid ___olive
Skin texture/characteristics:___rough ____dimpled/jowley ___lined ___wrinkled ___leathery ___ smooth ___clear ___ silken ___satiny ____dry ___flaky/scaly ___flawless ____glowing
- Zits or acne?
- Scars? Where?
- Tattoos?- Where?
Distinguishing marks: ___ Moles ___ Freckles ___ Deformity
What do others first notice about their appearance? :
- Color? ___ Brown ___ Black ___ Grey ____ White ____Silver ___Red ___ Ginger ____ Blonde ____ Other:
- What type of people do they generally attract?
Scent (piney, creamy, natural ,etc):
Style of dress:
___Casual ___Business-Casual ___Business -Professional ___Black-tie ___Masculine ___Feminine
Jewelry or accessories:
Good personality traits:
Bad personality traits:
Mood character is most often in:
Sense of humor:
Character’s greatest joy in life:
Character’s greatest fear:
What single event would most throw this character’s life into complete turmoil?
Character is most at ease when:
Most ill at ease when:
Depressed or sad when:
If granted one wish, it would be:
Character’s soft spot:
Is this soft spot obvious to others?
Greatest vulnerability or weakness:
Past failures he/she would be embarrassed to have people know about:
Character’s darkest secret:
Does anyone else know?
Intellectual/Mental/Personality Attributes and Attitudes
Did they go to school?:
- What did they learn?:
- Did they complete the curriculum?:
- What were their grades like?:
- Do they know any other languages?:
How smart are they?:
- What are their strengths?:
- Manner of Writing:
Any Mental Illnesses?:
How does your character feel about
- About crime:
- People of a different sexuality?:
- Different nationality/race?:
How does your character show affection/love?:
How does your character handle grief?
What are they like when they cry?:
What can make them cry?:
How does your character handle physical pain?:
- Emotional pain?:
Is your character typically a leader or a follower?:
Are they ‘big picture’ or ‘little details’?:
What kind of energy level does your character typically display?:
Drives and motivations:
Long term goals:
How the character plans to accomplish these goals:
How other characters will be affected:
Type of childhood:
Most important childhood memory:
Currently living with:
- Do they like what they do? Why or why not?
- What would they rather be doing?
Finances: ___Frugal ___
Relationships & Family
- How did they meet?:
- Why do they get along so well?:
- How often do they talk or see each other?:
Are they a virgin?
- How did they lose it?
Have they ever cheated on a partner?
Who was their first crush?
-What did they like about them?
– Were their feelings reciprocated?
Have they ever been married?
Are they in any kind of relationship?
- Is it serious?
- Do they want to be in a serious relationship?
What is their sexual orientation?
___Gay ___Straight ___Lesbian ____Bisexual _____Asexual ___Pansexual ___other? :
Describe the relationship with their current partner:
- How did they meet?: ___In- person ___ online dating
- Who made the first move?:
- How does your character truly feel about their partner?:
- When did they realize this?:
- Are they still together?
Still Alive?: ____ Yes ___No
Relationship with her: ____ Close ___Distant ____Estranged ____Other (dead/unknown)
Relationship with him: ___Close ___Distant ___Estranged ___Other (dead/unknown)
- Parents still together?
Relationship with them:
Relationship with him/her:
Children: ____Yes ____No
- How many?
Relationship with them:
Other important family members:
Form of entertainment:
Mode of transportation:
Most prized possession:
Plays a musical instrument?
Plays a sport?
How he/she would spend a rainy day:
What does he/she do too much of?
What does he/she do too little of?
Extremely skilled at:
Extremely unskilled at:
Usual body posture:
Optimist or pessimist?
Introvert or extrovert?
Daredevil or cautious?
Logical or emotional?
Disorderly and messy or methodical and neat?
Prefer working or relaxing?
Confident or unsure of himself/herself?
How he/she feels about himself/herself:
One word the character would use to describe self:
One paragraph description of how the character would describe self:
What does the character consider his/her best personality trait?
What does the character consider his/her worst personality trait?
What does the character consider his/her best physical characteristic?
What does the character consider his/her worst physical characteristic?
How does the character think others perceive him/her:
What would the character most like to change about himself/herself:
Relationships with others
Opinion of other people in general:
Does the character hide his/her true opinions and emotions from others?
Person character most hates:
Person character goes to for advice:
Person character feels responsible for or takes care of:
Person character feels shy or awkward around:
Person character openly admires:
Person character secretly admires:
Who is the most important person in the character’s life before the story starts:
After the story begins:
At the end of the story:
When I meet a character I am still not clear on, I like to imagine I am on a blind date. And what comes to mind, I write down and I go from there. It isn’t uncommon for me also to find qualities of my characters that I meet in my everyday life. And it is frightening at first. It feels like lightning has struck my whole body like a jolt runs through my body each time I see them. It feels a bit like love, but more terrifying. It feels like Emma Thompson did when she met her character, Harold, in the film Stranger than Fiction. When you feel like that, pay attention, the character inside your mind is trying to speak to you!
I built this with a lot of help from Bryn Donovan’s blog of Master Lists which you can check out online or even on Amazon Prime/Kindle! Her master lists have been there when you just struggle to find the right word.