Writing fiction is a bit like baking a cake. You need the right ingredients in the right amounts, or it will turn out awful. For fiction, you need the right combination of plot, action, description and character development to bring your story to life for your reader.
Character development can be one of the most important things about writing fiction. You want to create a realistic group of characters to move your plot along and to do that you need to know them. But how much do you really have to know about them before you start writing?
Well, that depends on the kind of story you are writing. The length of your tale will dictate the amount of character information you will need to make them come to life. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve broken my character sheet down into what I use for each type of writing. Your character sheets may vary.
Writing flash fiction is one of the hardest types of writing. You have to create a story with just the minimum of words and it has to make sense. For most flash fiction, you only need the most basic character information.
Hair color and style:
Complexion and skin tone:
Character’s body build:
These should be enough to create a flash fiction character.
Short stories have a higher word count, so the characters in those should be more developed. You have more leeway with your character’s descriptions and can even give background information, which will make them more real for your readers. Use the above information and add the following:
Character back story:
Mannerisms or gestures:
Novellas and Novels
Novellas and novels require the most detailed characters because they are as much character driven stories as plot driven. Character sheets with more detailed physical description, personality traits, and an extensive background will go a long way to making your story one that pulls a reader in and keeps them reader from beginning to end. Use all of the above plus the following:
Strongest personality traits:
Weakest personality traits:
Needs of the character:
Sibling’s names and descriptions:
Interests and hobbies:
Possessions this character values most:
What drives your character:
How does your character handle conflict:
What is standing in your character’s way:
What is their favorite room and why:
What vehicle do they drive:
What are your character’s prejudices:
How does your character feel about love:
What is their neighborhood like:
What is your character’s philosophy on life:
What is your character’s family life like:
You also should have a rough background and timeline for this character, from childhood through the start of the story. Break it down into 5 year spans, unless your character is fairly old, then go with 10 year spans. Finally, have a profile summary, taking everything you have for the character and write up a one or two paragraph summary. It is a good way to focus your character’s information, and could be used in your story.
When writing a series of books about the same characters, it is imperative to keep some kind of record of their traits. Do not rely on your memory when it comes to writing each book. As an avid reader of series books, it is amazing the number of times a character’s eyes have been dark blue in one book and dark brown in another then gone back to blue. While most casual readers won’t catch that kind of mistake, your dedicated readers will. It costs you nothing to keep a notebook with your character sheets and reference it when writing the next book in your series. It will go a long way to keep the continuity of your books intact.
A note on describing clothing. Unless clothing change is crucial to your story’s plot limit your fashion descriptions. You do not need to tell every single piece of clothing your character is wearing. A basic idea of their attire is enough for most readers.
Your characters are as important to your story as your plot. Developing them will help bring your tale to life, but taking the time to plan them out prior to writing is a great way to make them real to you and your reader.