Why do fiction writers spend so much time with character sketches? Well for me, I can only hold so many thoughts in my head before my brain explodes, and it’s a really great way to develop insight into your characters’ motivations. Having that information on paper is a handy reference tool, especially when you’re stuck in the middle of a scene, foundering for the next sentence or piece of dialogue.
How do you write a character sketch? There are tons of really great articles and books out there on the subject, but for me, I try to come with the following characteristics:
- Approximate age
Education (or lack thereof)
What do they look like?
What was their childhood like?
What were their parents like?
What was their family like?
What are their good points and what are their character defects?
What type of people do they like and why?
I answer all these questions and any other information that may pop into my head as I write a brief biography of my protagonist and antagonist. If I know enough about them, then I can usually predict how they will react to certain situations, their speech patterns, their thought processes. Once I understand their character defects, then I can start working on their flaws and what they can do to overcome those flaws.
The most important character sketches you will have will be your protagonist and your antagonist. Those are the character sketches that must be fleshed out completely and in a great deal of detail. I like to know my minor characters, but not with the same amount of description as my protagonist and antagonist.
If my character reveals something new to me as I’m writing a scene, I incorporate that new information into my character sketch. This is what pulled me through last week when I was having difficulty with my antagonist. I referred back to the earlier character sketches I had done, and lo and behold but there was the clue I was looking for to motivate her!