Thursday, April 21, 2011

Character Planning - writing tip

Question from the e-mail: Years ago, when I was your student, you sent me a character planning sheet. I found it most helpful, but then gave up writing for other pursuits. Now, I wish I had kept at least the information from that class as I want to get started again. Do you still have a copy available? Isabelle.

Answer: Dear Isabelle,

Most courses offer such a sheet and advise the writer to prepare one for each character in the story, just to make their relative positions clear. The one I'm sending is one I developed on my own, not the one I used to send to WD students that was included in the course. I could no longer send that as it is copyrighted to Writer's Digest.

I'm not sure if this is the same one you had, but I hope you find it helpful....


Plot should come out of character, evolving naturally from each character's beliefs, experiences, and desires. To understand your characters' feelings, take a look at the events that shaped their lives. Look first at the character's emotional life, then at world events.

Characters are shaped by personal experiences. If your character was verbally abused, or bullied, as a youngster that may affect how they behave as an adult. For instance, if such a character becomes a teacher, he or she will be more in tune with children who are the subject of bullying.

Characters are changed by the historic events of their lives. If your character was near ground zero on 9-11, he or she will be affected by that memory.

Use the following interview sheet to get closer to your characters. Remember, good characters do things for good reasons and bad characters do things for bad reasons, but all characters MUST have a reason to do what they do. Fill our a sheet for each major character.

Questions with a (*) must be answered:

Name, date of birth and place of residence? (*)

What does he or she want? (*)

What stands in his or her way? (*)

How will the character change by the end of the story? (*)

What is the character’s reason for taking action?

What are his or her strengths and weaknesses? (*)

What secrets does the character have?

What childhood or personal events shaped the character’s life?

What world events shaped the character?

Physical description: (*) (Hint from a workshop with LaVyrle Spencer: "Sometimes it helps to pick an actor to play the role. That way you can always see them.)

© 2003 Arline Chase

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