One thing my editor pointed out after doing the copy-edit on Red Threads was that whilst my characters are generally interesting and well-defined, they weren’t as well fleshed-out as they should be. They were a little one dimensional, they didn’t feel like they had much substance to them. She suggested I make character sheets to really get to know what makes my characters tick.
This was very good advice, except I had to make a little confession to her at this point.
I already had character sheets for all my characters.
So what went wrong?
The problem was, that in my naivety (and boy, have I learnt A LOT over these past few months), I had skipped out some of the sections.
I was like one of those people on Masterchef who are told that their massive chunk of venison won’t cook in 8 minutes like they think it will. But they carry on and try it anyway, then look surprised when the 8 minutes are up and the meat is still raw when they slice it.
Yes, I’d decided to take a character sheet used by a bestselling author and skip out the sections that I felt were irrelevant (because it’s not like she has way more experience than me, or anything… *hangs head in shame*). Why would I need to know what makes my character angry? Who cares what their bad habits are?
Basically, I had stapled together 6 sheets of paper for my main characters, and only used the first page. But hey, at least I knew what they looked like, right?
So, when my editor gave me a list of questions to think about for each character, I realised that the majority of them were already on the character sheets. But they were obviously blank. I can practically imagine John Torode shaking his head at me right now. (Whoops, I’m not actually on Masterchef, am I?)
I went back and filled in all the blanks, making my characters like actual real people, and when I had finished I could see them in my head so much more clearly. Even filling in the stuff about their personalities somehow made the overall picture clearer. Before the character sheets, it was like looking at my characters through privacy glass. Afterwards, it’s like they’re in the room with me.
So I suppose the point of this story — apart from me making myself look like a complete idiot — is that character sheets are worth their weight in gold, and time spent on that little bit of extra planning is worth it in the long run. Of course, from now on, every character I write about will have a character sheet, and it will be filled out in great detail. This is especially important now I’m drafting book 2 of the series, as a few of the same characters crop up there again.
So now I’d like to know from you: do you make character sheets? If not, how do you work out your characters?