Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Character Sketch

Making a Character Real

So I have spent some serious time writing my latest book, right?  I even sent the first three chapters to a top agent in the business. Just what I'm supposed to do, right?

And this top agent was so very kind to not only read my three chapters, but provide some very good feedback that helped me tremendously.

In fact, it stopped me in my tracks.

And...made me stop writing for a few weeks!

But that's okay. As a result, I went back and made the suggested changes that the agent offered.

What changes were those?

She told me she needed to know more about my main character in order to like her. She said something was lacking. And she was right.

The Character Sketch

As an artist, I love to draw and paint. But I tend to be impatient. I want to get what's inside my head down on the paper FAST before I lose it.

And the drawing rarely comes out like I want it to because I rushed it.

Pablo Picasso often completed hundreds of sketches before he ever put paint to canvas. My art professors agreed with this method and would often have me complete many sketches before actually starting the painting.

I have learned it is the same in writing.

We writers tend to have our characters completed inside our heads, but forget many important details when we finally put them down on paper.

But this is easy to remedy with the Character Sketch.

There are many ways to complete this task. There are character worksheets, which I have blogged about here before. There are sketches that are in paragraph form where you free write about your character.

And there is another way to complete this task: Asking questions.

Questions Questions Questions

Get out a piece of paper and ask yourself these questions about your main character:

  • What does he/she look like? What does her face tell us about her personality? Does he have any unusual characteristics?
  • Does she speak quickly or slowly? Loudly? Softly? Why?
  • What kind of clothes does she wear?  How does she do her makeup? What does his hair look like? What does this tell us about him?
  • Where is this character now? How do her surroundings add to the sketch?
  • What's in his background? What does he do for a living? What about her family? What's her education?
  • What kind of person is he? Relaxed? Busy? Pleasant? Obnoxious? Intelligent? Dense? Kind? Cruel? Thoughtful? Forgetful?
  • What kind of thoughts are going on inside her head? Is she emotional? What does she believe in? Is he opinionated?

Bringing It All Together

Now that we have a sketch about your main character, it's time to bring it all together. Take some time to select some of the answers to your questions.

Write three paragraphs about your character keeping your reader in mind. Write about the main theme that ties her to the most important plot points in your story.

Why should your reader care about this character?

Drawing of my son I completed years ago...

Getting It Right

In drawing, sketching is light and easy. The artists uses a light touch because this isn't the final drawing. Lines will need to be erased before the final drawing is started. There is light shading and no darkest darks.

Character sketches should be the same way. You should be willing to take away details and add some if need be.

And that's what happened with my character. This nice agent wanted to like my main character, but there just wasn't enough there to grab her attention.

I had to go back and add some details that would make the reader like her, want to be friends with her, and want to know even more about her.

It's the same with drawing. In the finished drawing, you see more details. You see the darker shading and values. Now the drawing comes to life!

So, as you can see, the Character Sketch can be an excellent tool to help you develop your characters. It takes time and causes you to slow down and really think about those details the reader needs to know in order to "get" your character and care about what happens to him or her.

You want your reader to turn the page in order to find out more, right?

Good strong characters will do the trick!

Your turn: How do you develop your characters? Do you have a tool that works best for you?



  1. Awesome stuff, Ruth!! I develop my characters using the My Book Therapy Book Buddy. The Book Buddy really helps you create characters (and an entire plot) from the inside out. There's a character interview section in the beginning that's awesome! I highly recommend it!!

    1. Sounds good! Where do I get one? I have used character worksheets in the past. I find them very helpful but having someone read your work seems to be the best way to find out if your characters are believable or not.

      Thanks for your suggestion!

  2. I'm using My Book Therapy's the Book Buddy for my second book and it's really making me think. A character should have a Lie They Believe, and an Epiphany at the end of the book that transforms that lie into truth. Also, the character should have something he/she is working toward throughout the book. I like the idea of writing some paragraphs about the character. It actually has helped me to write it from the POV of the character (like first person). :)

    1. Sounds good! When Amanda told me she really wanted to like my MC it made me stop and realize I was leaving out something hadn't thought of before.

      Thanks for the info!

  3. Interesting concept. One problem, stick figures look better than my sketches. I describe the characters and then have friends let me know if they can visual the characters completely. So far, that's worked. If they don't like the descriptions or believe the characters are lacking in depth, they promptly notify me and back to the keyboard I go.

    1. Very good suggestion to have others read your character sketch. I find in drawing it helps to have others look at the early sketches to see if I am on the right track.

      I guess it's true with writing too!

      Thanks for the comment Jeff.