Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Use a Character Chart?

Have you ever gone back and read a story you wrote and thought, I don't know these people. Not only that but I don't even care about them. Story killer. That's when it's time to get into the heads of your characters. If you don't care about your characters, your reader certainly won't. One thing that I have found to be helpful when writing about your characters is to do a write up about each one of them. Anita Stansfield makes a file about each character. She even picks a face from a magazine or a Hollywood icon to be the face she writes about. Now that's dedication. I have a chart that I can use to learn more about my characters. I may never use some of the information in the story, but it gives me a feel for who they are and what their motivation is.
Character chart
Date of birth:
Color of hair:
Color of eyes:
Scars, handicaps:
Sense of humor and type:
Basic nature:
Philosophy of life:
Music, art, reading preferred:
Style of dressing:
Favorite colors:
What is in her purse or his wallet:
Educational background:
Work experience/occupation:
Best friend:
Men/women friends:
Enemies and why:
Description of home:
Strongest character trait:
Weakest character trait:
Sees self as:
Seen by others as:
Present problem:
How it will get worse:
Most important thing to know about character:
One-line characterization:
Character's paradox:
Character's deepest fear:
Character's goal:
Character's motivation:
Character's conflict:
How character will change:
Depending on what time period or setting your story is in, some of the questions may not apply, so adjust the chart according to your needs. This has been a useful tool for me, I hope that it can be beneficial for those of you who find yourself with a lifeless character in need of some animation.


Kellie Buckner said...

Wow! Thanks! I just started doing some character outlines, so this will help me a ton. I like your pictures you've done on your sidebar, by the way.

Janice LeFevre said...

Terrific! I will certainly use this!

Lori Conger, said...

Wow! That's cool. I have never thought of breaking my characters down that far. Thanks for sharing.

Rebecca Talley said...

I've used this method before and it helps.

ali said...

Thanks Cathy, that was awesome! I did that a bit for Devil's Daughter - and I DID pick faces from movie stars I thought most closely resembled the person in my head.

But I need to get into the habit of doing it more, with all my characters, not just the main guys. I liked your suggestions because a lot of times I feel stupid writing about my characters and find I'm at a loss for what I think I need to know about them.

Thanks again!

Cindy Beck said...

Great suggestions! There were a couple of things on the list I'd never thought of including ... like scars and sense of humor type.

Thanks for the good ideas.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Cathy - This is an excellent tool! About four or five years ago, John sent me to a writing class taught by Anita Stansfield. I absolutely loved everything she taught us about getting to know our characters. Ever since that class, when I look through magazines and see someone interesting (young or old) I'll rip it out & add it to my "Character Binder" Then when I use that person as a character, I post it at my desk with a sticky note that has the character's name written on it. It's an excellent visual for me!

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