Set in the 1890s, KILLRAVEN is the story of Hope Voeschell, a young woman brought up to believe in non-violence, and DeCoursey Rogers a man who has known violence first hand, and what happens when an isolated peaceful community is confronted with a murderer. KILLRAVEN is a fictional Chesapeake Bay island, an isolated place rich in the traditions of its independent people. The novel is based in part on characters that originally appeared in the award-winning short story collection, THE DROWNED LAND.
Question: Should I use a character planning sheet? If so, why?
Answer: I think it is always a good idea to us a character planning sheet, then write a paragraph, showing the character in action.
Meggan Darke had fiery red hair and the temper to go with it. Raised the oldesty girl in a houseful where only boys were valued, Meggie learned to fight early. Even in her sixties, the hair was untamed, though her frame had gone skinny with age, and she had lost most of the “figure” that had once been her pride. She wore ratty old sweaters, always out at the elbows, liked her coffee without sugar, but was never opposed to a little “sweetening” from the half-pint in somebody’s back pocket. Get on her “bad side” though, and she’d flash anyone the back of her hand like lightening. They didn’t come too big, or too mean, for Meggie Darke to tackle.
Now from the paragraph above, we know she is elderly, skinny, and still has fiery red hair. But don’t you also know from that paragraph what Meggan Darke was like as a person? How her growing up years shaped her behavior? Quick-tempered. A woman of action. She is a strong woman, who will stand up to anyone for what she believes is right.
Meggan was my great-grandmother and lived in my house until I was nine. This paragraph describes her as I knew her. I have been on the wrong side of that hand many times. But sometimes it’s hard to write about the people we love and stand away from our feelings so we can see what they are really like as people.
That’s the purpose of the character-planning sheets. On Megan’s it says, Worst Trait: loses temper. Will slap you without thinking. Best trait, loved with her whole heart, lived life to the fullest. I’m not sure the last came across in the paragraph, though. What do you think?
If I knew her so well, why did I need to do a sheet? Because I knew Meghan in her 70's when she was a skinny old lady. In my book, Killraven, she is in her early 20s. At that time she had married (perhaps unwisely), been deserted by her husband leaving her with no resources and two children to raise on her own. In desperation, Meggie had returned to her (gloating) father's farm as the only alternative to starvation in the city (no government help in 1892).
While I don't Outline, I do write character plans and keep them on file, just in case.
One of the reasons for filling out the character sheet is to help you know what s/he is like as a person and to help you convey that to your readers. This is the one I created for my own classes, simply because it helps me to know the character's motivation and physical description, so I don't give them blue eyes on one page and brown on another -- something I am famous for.
CHARACTER PLANNING SHEET
Who IS Your Character?
Plot should come out of character, evolving naturally from each character's beliefs 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.
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 should have a reason (motivation)to do what they do. Fill our a sheet for each major character. Questions with a (*) must be answered.
This is the interview sheet I use:
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: Sometimes it helps to pick an actor to play the role, so you will have a visual image of what he or she looks like)
Write a short paragraph about this character: