The grocery store closest to our church has sushi, so I usually stop for some after doing flowers and eat it at the counter in front of the windows in their eating area. This is one of their best rolls, but they don’t have them often when I’m here. Was happy to find this today so late in the year.
As a writer, one thing I have learned to do is to create character information sheets. Starting a new story? Got a new major character to add? The first thing I do is set up a character sheet. There are, of course, many ways to do this. The most important thing you’ll see, however, is the prevalence of statistical and background information needed for the character. They are especially helpful for recording information in the same way one would in a wiki.
Over time, I have developed two different character sheets for use based on the needs of my stories and characters, that don’t require me to print them out and work easily in Word. One is more in-line with supporting or minor characters, while the other is designed for main characters and delves much deeper into the psyche of a character. While not everything will end up in the story, they are things to know about the character that will help inform your writing and their decision making process.
Standard Character Sheets
The goal with this sheet is to create a concise reference sheet for the character. Here you’ll want to try to strike a balance between understanding the character and including every detail you can think of. If you find yourself getting long-winded in many of the topics, consider using a more in-depth sheet. A blank standard character sheet is available for download: blank sheet.
The character sheet should start with statistical, quantifiable types of information, such as name, birth and age information, and physical appearance. Depending on the scope of your story, you can include very basic ethnic, cultural, or species information, such as “Chinese”, “Chinese, raised American”, or “Vulcan”. In short, this is your “at-a-glance” physical location for when you can’t remember a basic piece of in formation, such as hair color or height.
Between sections 1 and 2 is the perfect place to put an image of the character, if you have one or can create one via your own art or an online doll-making services (see the resources page).
This section should make up the bulk of the style sheet, focusing on larger and mostly more internal matters, such as character and personality, vocations and leisure time, life, and the past. Include anything that may shape how the character interacts with the world, which may have baring in the story, or which you find interesting. This is where you should go to fill in backstory, check on family members, or see if their anger is deep rooted or fleeting.
This should be the last section on a standard character sheet, and includes smaller more external matters such as colors, clothing, food, and sleeping. You may include a note regarding hygiene matters, or the fact that they always carry a particular item with them if not previously mentioned. This is the kind of information you may refer to when writing a camping scene, or if the character is confronted with a menu or going on a shopping trip.
In-Depth Character Sheets
I recommend using an in-depth sheet for all main characters, and also supporting characters for whom you have acquired deeper information on. When you do this may depend on your writing process. If you’re a planner, you might do these first; if you’re more exploratory, you may come back and fill it out once you’ve got more experience with the character.
Add this sheet to the standard sheet, and be as wordy as you like and include as many details as you have. If you don’t have a lot in mind for a certain section, come back to it later.
An in-depth sheet is available for download: blank in depth sheet
I most often find it helpful to start with more concrete items, so space/place information usually comes first. While the standard sheet covers living arrangements, this is where to include much more detailed information:
- The building, town, and perhaps surrounding people.
- Lay out the rooms and describe the decor of the character’s personal space.
- How does it reflect their livelihood, and if they work in a different place, lay out that area, as well.
This part of the sheet focuses on mental information, and you should go into the deeper psychology of the character:
- Focus on getting into their head and describing how their mind works, and what their thought process is like.
- Creativity takes many different forms, what is it like for them?
- What are their dreams like? What do they entail? Do they believe it has direct bearing on real life?
- Finally, delve into their conscious and subconscious with fears and secrets.
This section focuses on other people–close family, close friends, and romantic or sexual partners. Some people bring out the best or worst in each other. I often find exploration of a character’s more intimate moments to be extremely helpful in rounding out their characters and in relation to some of their subconscious life.
- Outline the relationship and interaction with each important family member or friend, especially ones who appear in the story.
- Describe the character’s romantic and sexual natures.
- Outline the relationship and interaction with each important romantic or sexual partner.
This section deals with cultural/ethnic, species, or personal information about the character. My sheets are geared for Lupa, so they include: social items like dominance, group items like astral abilities, and personal information such as weapons and fighting styles for the character. You should include anything in this section that is important to your character’s species, group, or a large part of their personal life which is not addressed elsewhere, such as:
- Socially important items or ideas
- A special group they belong to
- Special powers
- Personal interests (expand on hobby section)
The miscellaneous section, which I use for items too big for a simple list or sentence, but does require a record. Put down:
- How they got their favorite dress they thought they could never have;
- Personal scents, and how/why they chose it;
- The development of physical ticks or movements associated with the character
This is going to date me, but email quizzes used to be a big thing in the early 2000s, which is when I was in college and starting my job. While some were fun, they did get old after a while. However, I discovered another great use for them: character development. Look for thinks like consistency, and wherever possible, make the character choose one thing over the other for either/or questions. I’ve found it helpful in developing history, flavor profiles, and sometimes grit. If you find any you particularly like, consider using them for characters. Look for:
- Flavor profiles
If you were looking for some resources like this, I hope that this has been helpful; please do leave feedback or questions!
The blank sheets I’ve posted here are free for anyone to use and modify, and will probably load them up over on the resources page, as well.
If you don’t live around the Pennsylvania area, you may never have heard of one of the great breakfast meats: scrapple. It is of Pennsylvania Dutch origin, and as an offal product, to many outside of the region may seem rather gross. However, it is inexpensive and tasty, and DH and I both like it.
While we don’t buy it very often, we do when it’s on sale, and it freezes well. It’s nice to make on a Saturday when we’re both home for breakfast, usually with eggs. We both prefer it pan fried; it is crispy outside and soft inside. I prefer it with ketchup, but people put many different condiments on it.
If you’re ever in the area, do give it a try. It can be purchased in most grocery stores and diners. Have you already tried it? Do share in the comments.
With Novel writing month approaching way more swiftly than I’d like–can’t we catch a breath somewhere?–I’ve decided to participate this year. This was last week, when I thought, “Hey, I write pretty much every day anyway, so I may as well.” Does that sound too uncommitted? Possibly.
Document setup is about half way done. I’ve got all the main headings and places to start, but haven’t had a chance this week to get more notes in. Hopefully I can get that done before the first.
For me, novel writing month changes how I do my daily writing. I’ve got out of the habit of carrying the laptop and have been doing pen and paper writing for quite some time now. I’ll have to keep the laptop charged and carry it on my daily commute for the month. Who knows, maybe I’ll get back into that mode of writing and continue with it.
The main story this year will center around Aura, and at the moment I have no idea where it will fall between fanfic vs. original canon. It will definitely be exploratory writing, and hopefully I’ll learn a lot more about her and where she comes from.
Being from a reading family, and the daughter of a librarian, book have always been a part of my life. They’ve greatly influenced who I am today. Growing up with books trains the mind to build deep thought processes, be exposed to experiences it normally wouldn’t, and build imagination and creativity. Like Harry Potter has affected entire generations (yes, it will be on this list!), I know that I have been heavily influenced by certain books and series in my reading background.
It was hard to narrow it down to the list below. There are many wonderful books I haven’t included because they haven’t had effects in my life, which is really the required thing here. In alphabetical order.
- Amy Tan
- I no longer remember when I first read a book of hers, but it was probably The Joy Luck Club. Her work is deep and intense, and I ready many of them during a time when I was expanding my world view.
- Anne McCaffrey
- Of everything on this list, she is probably the most influential writer. I cannot say enough about how much I was obsessed with the Dragonrider series. My mom first got me Dragonsong on tape as a young teenager, and when I finally listened to it I went on to read all of the Dragonrider books I could get. My first serious attempts at writing were Pern fanfics, and that in turn has led to so many other things.
- Anne Rice
- Your view of vampires won’t be the same after reading these. It’s been very difficult finding anything as good. Nothing else I’ve read stands up to the level of character, plot, and clearly thought out vision of her vampire stories.
- Beatrix Potter
- I don’t think I’ve ever not known tales like Peter Rabbit or Two Bad Mice. Peter Rabbit came out in 1902, and people still read these to their kids. I don’t know any other picture books still in use after such a long time. My mom has been to her home on her tours of the UK, and I’m lucky enough to have some first edition “reprints” from their store.
- Beverly Cleary
- Another childhood staple. The tales of Ramona Quimby, beef tongue, and yogurt chicken were prevalent in our household. DH had never heard of her and that made me sad.
- Bishoujou Senshi Sailor Moon
- A gateway anime for lots of people in my generation. But the original manga is a lovely story, with lovely art. I have met so many awesome people and that has shaped my life tremendously since 2004. I’m also into the musicals.
- Black Beauty
- I read this as a kid, and still read it once in a while. Being a horse girl, I read tons of horse stories, but this one is pretty universal and still read by children today. Also a great story for animal rights.
- Blood and Chocolate/The Silver Kiss
- These are okay YA supernatural stories, but it was shortly after reading these that I was inspired to write a story. That became the origin of Zaira’s story. After 20 years with her, and now a writer, I just can’t leave these off the list.
- The Color Purple
- Despite the fact that this is a great story that sheds light on important issues (both historical and current), I discovered how the author, Alice Walker, talking about her characters–as if they are real people. It’s very similar to my own inclination when speaking of them and how my relationship with them is.
- Dawn of Desire
- I have no memory of where I found this used book, but it is one of the only romance novels I’ve read–really, it’s an adventure/ancient Egypt story and does not include many of the details found in modern romance books. It did, however, get me even more interested in ancient Egypt with a story of intrigue, magic, and adventure.
- The Deer Dancers
- I discovered these books in a large book shop when our parents took us to Toronto as teenagers. It’s a great series about Native Americans and were some of my first books in that genre and greatly improved my understanding of Native cultures.
- Gail Carson Levine
- This author does both re-written fairy tales and original YA fantasy works. If you’re a fantasy reader who also enjoys fairy and fold tales, then her books are for you.
- The Golden Filly Series
- More horse stories! This is one of those rare good Christian fiction series, featuring a young female jockey. There are 10, and I enjoyed them all. It greatly expanded my knowledge of the racing world, and I really did love them.
- Harry Potter
- I’m really not sure that this needs any explanation. Although I’m a bit older than the Potter generation, this series has affected my life and I enjoy many of it’s fandom qualities, including fanfiction.
- Louisa May Alcott
- I’ve always loved Little Women, and have read various works of hers. I can say that her ethics and morality are high, and seeing how she stood up for these things being a social reformer is quite inspiring.
- Marguerite Henry
- I was totally into horses growing up, and read TONS of horse-related fiction and non-fiction. Marguerite Henry was a children’s book author to specifically wrote about horses, and I read so many of them. You’d most likely know her as the author of Misty of Chincoteague.
- The Mandie Series
- This is a historical fiction mystery series aimed at young teens, the title character being a young female “detective”. These were influential on me late elementary and early middle school, and I also had the cookbook. I read over half of them, and many were published after I was in their age range.
- Although Mom read these to us growing up, it wasn’t until the movies came out that I developed a deeper interest, and re-read them. I find them more meaning full now that I have a better understanding of the concepts and design of the stories.
- The Ordinary Princess
- This is another book which I don’t remember picking up, but ever since the first read, this has been one of my favorite fairy-tale like stories. It’s definitely a children’s book, but is charming and a quick, lovely read. I read it a few times a year, and was delighted when the recurring Lavender’s Blue song was used in Disney’s live action Cinderella.
- I discovered this series as a teenager, and couldn’t put them down. While most of the stories revolve around good, freedom-loving animals fighting a tryant who wants to take over, the plots are varied, the world well-built, and the feasts epic. They will make you hungry. So, so hungry. I myself now enjoy getting into food and descriptions in some of my stories.
- The Sano Ichiro Series
- These are detailed, in-depth novels set in Shogunate Japan. They are good and well-researched. However, the main reason they’re on this list is that I read them with a friend and we enjoyed discussing them together. Also a great way to learn old Japanese culture, which I already had an interest in.
- The Shannara Books
- I read the original two sets of books in middle school, and I remember being quite engrossed in them. The show now on Netflix is…not at all what I remember, and we’ll leave it at that.
- Tamora Pierce
- While I didn’t discover this awesome writer until I was an adult, she writes some of the best medieval-type fantasy for girls and young women you’ll find anywhere. My favorite so far has been the Protector of the Small series. If you are into YA or fantasy at all, these are must-reads.
- I’m very glad I didn’t read these as a teenager, I wouldn’t have finished them. While the books are good, the movies have changed the entire way that movies can be made, and also brought in things from the appendices and histories (which I haven’t read). Nevertheless, both mediums speak to the genius, complexity, and ideas encapsulated in these master works. It has also affected me greatly that this and works like Harry Potter bring fans together, whether it’s the fandom or teams making movies. It is part of what changed fandom from geeky to cool.
- Wicked Lovely
- While this is the first of a series, I haven’t had a chance to read more of them yet. However, it was shortly after reading this and seeing what the author did with the various groups of Fairies that I seriously considered starting a fairy story. I’ve always had an interest, so this was encouraging, and I’m now working on a story with with its own versions of the varied lore.
I’d love to hear some of the books, authors, or series have greatly influenced your life, and if you have any questions or opinions on what’s shaped mine.