Character Sheets

Ciao, amici. We’ve been discussing the story bible. So far, we have the overview and the series premise. Today, we’re going to cover character sheets.

character sheet

There are a few things you absolutely need to keep consistent when you create a character. Appearance, age, and the character arc. Filling out this simple form will give you an easy, at-a-glance reference that helps you keep all these things straight. (If you’re interested in this specific form, click on the graphic to download it to use as-is or manipulate for your own needs.)

The first column is simply the characters’ names. Make sure you write first and last. This will keep you from changing the spelling or the last name (which isn’t mentioned frequently) later in the story. Once you have a row for each main character, color code them so they are easy to distinguish. And if you write in Scrivener, you can use that same color to define the character, making it easy to see which scene is in which character’s POV.

The second through fourth columns are all about appearance.

  • Column 2—Eyes
    Add the color and any identifying features, like large, close-set, beady, long-lashes, thick eyeliner, etc.
  • Column 3—Hair
    Go a little farther than hair color. Include the style (curly, wavy, straight), the length (short, shoulder length, close-cropped, bald, etc.), and if the character does anything specific to it (adds gel, braids it for work, etc.)
  • Column 4—Build
    Refer to height and stature here. Saying 6’4″ is better than saying tall, but either can be helpful. Stature (like willowy, athletic, portly, etc.) is also a convenient detail to include.

The next column is for quirks. It’s kind of nice for each of the main characters to have one. Remember inΒ Guys and Dolls when Sister Sarah kept unbuttoning the second button in her jacket as a nervous gesture? That’s the kind of detail I’m talking about. Having a quirk makes it easy to relay the character’s emotional state without out saying “she felt nervous” (blech). Give each main character a different quirk, unless you’re trying to establish a family trait or intentional mimicry. This column will help you keep them all straight.

The final two columns help you define the character arc. A character needs conflict to both be interesting and to advance plot.

  • The internal issue deals with emotional problems. An adopted child may grow to have abandonment issues. Someone who had a bad breakup may find it hard to commit.
  • The external issue deals with physical limitations. It could be a disability of some kind (like blindness) or it could be an obstacle to overcome (a mountain to climb).

Giving a character one (or even better, both) makes for a full, rich character and aids in plot advancement and character arc development. And if you can give an internal and external issue that contradicts each other (like an agoraphobic person who has to cross the country to save a loved one), all the better.

If you want to leave a category off or add categories to this, great! Customize to your heart’s content. But creating a sheet that helps you keep track of character traits will make it much easier for you to avoid description errors while remembering their motivations and challenges.

Next time, we’ll go over settings.

Staci Troilo Bio

54 thoughts on “Character Sheets

  1. Thanks for a great article. I’m a fan of character sheets in a grid format. I’ve found it useful to label my first column “Main Character” and the second column Related Character. This makes it easy to group characters based on their relationship to a lead character. By lead, I mean they have a clear story arc. For example, family members, past lovers, or mentors. It often turns out to be unused info but is helpful to retain for backstory and consistency. For Scrivener users, you can paste the grid into the Character section and edited it from Scrivener.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like that option, David. In Word, you could hyperlink the related characters so that clicking on a name would take you to that character’s main entry. I’m not sure that can be done in Scrivener, though.

      It’s a great idea to include related characters on the Scrivener card. Thanks for sharing that tip!

      Like

  2. I love using character sheets. I make my own for each novel, but you’ve given me some new fields to consider I hadn’t thought of adding before. I especially need the sheets for secondary characters, or those who pop up; unexpectedly. In writing a series I’ve learned that even characters I think are only going to be around for one scene often show up later in another book. In the beginning I didn’t jot references down to them. Now I know to do that for every character who comes along.
    This is an excellent series, Staci!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve started adding my throwaway characters to cards in Scrivener, though I don’t develop them with all these fields (even though there aren’t many). For them, just their names are usually enough. If they make a comeback, they get more fields filled out.

      I’m glad I gave you something to consider. I’ve seen your story bibles, so I’m surprised I was able to offer any suggestions at all!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I always have a cast of characters. Each person gets a paragraph, and I frequently go back and modify them when something new occurs. Probably not as organized, but I kept all of them. It’s been kind of handy for that story with all the recurring characters in it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Do I love this, Staci. I can’t tell you how much angst I feel searching for a previously mentioned detail to make sure it is the same later on. You would think I would make a note….but nooooooo. Now no excuse.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    A quick and easy way to create character sheets that I just love. Perfect for a handy reference to little details you have to be consistent with throughout your book(s). It’s going to help me greatly with my secondary characters, especially, who only occasionally pop in. Check it out, and while you’re there, be sure to check the links on Overview and Series Premise. This is good stuff! πŸ™‚ Don’t forget to pass it along! And thanks to Staci for this very helpful series!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Very helpful post, Staci! I have kept documents with character descriptions, motivations, etc, but they aren’t very structured. It didn’t matter much at first, but as you say, the farther you travel with a character, the more difficult keeping up with little details becomes. And where I REALLY need to do a better job is with secondary characters who may only show up once in a book, but need to be the same as they were 2 books ago. I often even forget their names, and have to go look them up. Doh! I think this will be at the top of a separate document page for all of my characters from now on, with any additional elaboration, or events they are part of, appearing below it. If I’m not careful, the next thing you know, I’ll be all organized and stuff. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thanks for the template, Staci! I keep telling myself one day I’ll get around to creating an actual character sheet rather than scribbles in a notebook, but something else always takes precedent. Since you’ve done the time-consuming part of creating the spreadsheet, it’ll be a breeze to fill in. Some characters (cough, Sage) get scarred more and more, and it’s a PITA to go back and find which injury caused what scar. Poor woman will look like the bride of Frankenstein once I’m through with her. πŸ˜‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • When I’m in the planning stages, I do this. For me, simple is better. When I start writing, I put the relevant information in the Scrivener character cards. Then it’s all in one file. I don’t fill out everything on their form, though. Just the basics I use here. In fact, I created my own character card template when I had the old Scrivener. But it didn’t transfer when I upgraded to the new Scrivener, and I haven’t gotten around to making another template yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I like the chart idea, Staci! I usually keep track in an outline format, but to have it handy for quick reference would be helpful.Thanks:)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m all about simplicity. I want things consolidated, color-coded… anything that will help me at a click or a glance. There are character sheet templates out there that are pages long. And if that works for someone, great. But it’s too much for me. I just need a few details, then I know the people in my head and let them develop on the page.

      Like

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