Post: How To Use A Character Sheet

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One of the most difficult parts of drafting a book is creating full, three dimensional characters. It doesn’t matter how well-crafted your plot is or if the words flow off the page like magic— if you have flat characters, your readers will lose interest. Not sure how to start bringing your characters to life? Try a character sheet!

A character sheet is a great tool for any writer. It allows you to first get down the most basic details of your character and then go even deeper, building on top of what you already know about him or her. If you go searching, you’ll find some very detailed character sheets out, including some that are hundreds of questions long. While this might work for some writers, it is certainly not a necessity! In fact, some of the most effective character sheets stick close to the basics.

Getting down basic information

The first thing you want to do is get a basic overview of your character. Here are just a few things you’ll want to include:

  1. Character name
  2. Age/date of birth
  3. Important or relevant family members
  4. Where they live
  5. General appearance
  6. Spouse/significant other
  7. Important friendships
  8. Education level
  9. Career/job

There, that’s it! This is the beginning of your character sheet, and you can already see a person coming to life with even the smallest of details. Where they live will inform their type of dress, ways of speech and even the food they remember fondly from their childhoods. Important family members can indicate whether they have a wide familial bond or are close with just one or two people.

It’s tempting to skip to only the parts of your character that you think are relevant to your book, but you risk creating flat, uninteresting characters when you do so.

Going deeper

Now you can start digging a little deeper into your character. You can add or delete questions from this list or do whatever else you need to make it fit your book and your characters.

  1. What do they want?
  2. Why can’t they have it?
  3. What is something they feel strongly positive about?
  4. What is something they feel strongly negative about?

You can breathe life into your characters with only a baker’s dozen questions. You might have some more of your own to add, but unless you are working on a fantasy or science fiction book, these questions are about all you need. Things like your character’s favorite color, most played song in high school or other tedious questions you can find in some character sheets are rarely relevant, and when they are, they tend to develop naturally over the course of the story.

The most important thing to remember with character sheets is to not let them get in the way of the story. Maybe you don’t know what your character feels strongly about just yet or why he or she only has a close relationship with his or her mom. That’s all perfectly OK! The most important thing with your character sheet is to dedicate time to thinking deeply about your characters and who they really are.