Character Sheets

19 Apr

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.


(I used this amazing one on Jody Hedlund’s blog for my main characters. Then I looked around Google to get some ideas of what people generally put on a minor character sheet, so as to make my own.)

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?

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8 Responses to “Character Sheets”

  1. Alex J. Cavanaugh April 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    I do make character profiles, but now I wonder what I’m missing on my sheets?

    • Stacey Mitchell April 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

      Well as we’ve seen, I’m hardly an expert, but it seems like you can never know too much about your characters :-)

  2. Patrick Fox April 19, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    I guess I’m fortunate that my characters arrive fully formed in my head, so I don’t make character sheets, and I don’t outline either. I know lots of authors swear by both of them, but for me, it would be too much like hard work and I’ve always avoided hard work like I try to avoid my mother-in-law. However, if character sheets work for you, Stacey, that’s great.

    • Stacey Mitchell April 22, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      Haha! Even the thought of not outlining is enough to make me sweat. I write everything down — and I mean EVERYTHING — because I’m so paranoid I’ll forget something or contradict myself.

      How brilliant to have fully-formed characters arriving straight in your head, especially ones like Trinity!

  3. Kate April 19, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    I make character sheets. For me, discovering every last little detail about my characters is the best part of novel-writing. All I need now is to figure out how the heck to do plot and I’m away! x

    • Stacey Mitchell April 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

      There’s always something, isn’t there! Filling out character sheets has definitely been an interesting process so far :-)

  4. Elle Turner April 22, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    I do use character sheets, but some bits seem to take ages to fill in! Hopefully it’s the harder bits that help in the end though *crosses fingers* :-)

    • Stacey Mitchell April 23, 2013 at 10:06 am #

      Yes exactly! It seems that no matter how well you know someone (fictional or real!), sometimes it’s hard to know absolutely *everything* about them. I’m hoping the same thing! :-)

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