Unfortunately, this new year is proving to still be as difficult as the holidays. My two oldest monsters both have birthdays this month, yesterday and the 10th. So we’re still in presents, baking, family dinner mode. I’m still tired and having a difficult time getting up Dark & Early. Needless to say, my production so far this month has been laughable. I’m hoping that after the last birthday on Monday that I can dig in and get some serious work done — or I may have to drop a project from my list. That always makes me sad.
Anyway, I promised to share the character and theme worksheets I’ve been using to help get myself back on track, so today, I’ll cover CHARACTER.
You may be startled by my deliberately vague sections. I’ve seen people with huge BIBLES of details. Hair color, eye color, birthday presents as children, family, jobs, sexual experience, etc. If something specific stands out to you and helps you make your character live and breathe on the page – then by all means, go for it. I just didn’t want to DEFINE a bunch of stuff that may or may not help. For some books, I couldn’t care less about what identifying marks my character might have (until I need to fill out the art sheet) – because those marks don’t play a part in the story. Why give your character scars or tats if they don’t actually MEAN anything?
I have two stories that never even NAME the character. The name isn’t important — but the person’s AUTHORITY is.
I guess my point is use what makes sense to you – but I didn’t waste a bunch of space for specifics. For me personally, there are only a handful of things that I absolutely must know to make a vibrant, living and breathing character. The rest is open to interpretation for each story. I’ll list a few here but won’t get into tons of detail — if you have questions, let’s discuss in comments.
- Story Goal and Motivation: first of all, I need to know what’s driving the character at the beginning of the story, and why. Note that a character’s initial story goal may evolve through or after the inciting incident — especially when circumstances force your poor orphan to leave behind his farm and go in search of a magic ring.
- Static Trait: this is something that the character always does – to the point that it becomes part of the plot. You might have a character who writes letters. Letters and letters for years! She always does it, and eventually, those letters play a part in the dark moment and resolution of the story (Dear Sir, I’m Yours). Or you might have a character who always plays with his ivory rahke a certain way, touching the heroine’s throat and cheek with it — even if later he’s supposed to be dead (The Shanhassonseries). It’s something that should be innocuous and innocent on its own, but later, you can see it coming from miles away. It’s tricky and not always something I manage to pull off, but it’s one of those little things that make me ridiculously happy when I do get it right.
- Greatest Strength — which can always be turned against the character as her Greatest Weakness. Oh, how I love to use a character’s best skills against her!
- The bottom row pertains to the Emotional Toolbox and Hero’s Journey. I highly recommend the Character Map if you’re struggling getting a character just right. What is the deep underlying fear the character is struggling with? What skills/traits can the antagonist use against her (similar to the greatest strength – these are things she can’t help doing over and over, even if they get her into trouble)? What leap of faith does the character have to make to survive the story or fall to the Dark Side?
One thing I’m not entirely satisfied with is the romance arc. I may end up creating one more sheet to help me get the “arsonist and firefighter” angle of conflict ironed out. For now, this is working for me. Good luck and let me know if they prove useful to you!