Since a lot of you seemed to find my complications worksheet useful, I'm going to also share the character worksheet I use. Fair warning though, it's long and complicated. I'll add some discussion and break it down into several different posts. You can download the whole thing as a pdf document here:
I've also done an updated worksheet which is here:
No matter how well you have written or plotted your novel, your characters are crucial. When you put your book in the hands of a reader, you are asking them to live with those characters for a minimum five or six hours, possibly a lot more. Ideally, you would like your characters to stay with readers forever.
Characters don't need a lot of words to be memorable. There are many unforgettable characters in picture books, for example, or even poems. But a protag for an MG or YA novel needs to be interesting and distinct enough to carry the reader through anything from 35,000 to 135,000 words. I have found that if I don't have the character firmly and properly developed in my own head before starting to write, no matter how thoroughly I've done my plotting, I am afflicted with mid-novel slump.
To avoid this, I've started doing a worksheet for every major character, whether she is the protag, the antag, a foil, a ficelle, a minion, a threshold guardian or whatever. The worksheet covers the basics of fleshing any character out and making her unique.
When it comes to the main character or the main antagonist though, I need to do more than just list characteristics, quirks, and history. I have to ask myself whether that character can carry a whole novel. Is she:
- Heroic or courageous enough to fight against adversity?
- Goal-driven, focused, or passionate enough about something to make her fight for it?
- Willing to persevere with dignity no matter how much crap you throw in her path?
- Quintessentially the personification of whatever trait you have given her? The only half-werewolf? The strongest demi-god? The ultimate bully? The most downtrodden stepdaughter? The biggest loser?
- Respond actively enough to her surroundings to make her interesting to read about?
- Embrace opportunities when they present themselves?
- Make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen to her?
- Have both strengths and weaknesses (hopefully related to each other in some way)? What are they?
Supporting characters don't have to have as many 'yes' answers. But they do have to be unique, and there has to be a reason for them to be there. When doing a character worksheet for a supporting character, I especially want to ask myself if she:
- Provides a task or tasks essential to the plot?
- Adds necessary humor or comic relief?
- Coaxes out or highlight the protag's strength?
- Adds complications to the protag's struggle or journey?
Happy character building,
P.S. Read Part Two of the Series Here:
And here are some links for additional information on building better characters:
Larger-than-Life-Characters by agent Sarah Davies
Donald Maass Character Checklist by Kathy Temean
Strong Heroes, Even Stronger Motivations by Jeannie Campbell
Creating Memorable Characters by Lee Masterson
Are you in Pain? Question for your character? by Darcy Pattison
Mentors and the Hero's Journey by Stephen Turner
Seven Common Character Types by Terri W. Erwin, II
Creating Villains People Love to Hate by Lee Masterson
The Other in Fiction: Creating Wonderfully Wicked Villains by Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD