Should I Write a Character Sketch?
Updated: Oct 8
You don't need to, but character sketches help you create a backstory for your characters, keep track of their physical characteristics, wants, needs, and flaws. They help you learn about your characters so you can make them relatable and likeable. Or unlikeable if they are a baddie.
Where can I get ideas for my characters?
If you need inspiration, go out and people watch. Study how they dress, walk, talk. See how some people don’t look up when they walk, and others do. Some will have a specific way they walk, limp, fast, slow, constantly fidgeting, always talking on the phone. It is human nature to wonder where they are going, why are they talking on the phone angrily, why are they crying. Be inspired by wondering about the why’s behind their actions.
Let these people become your characters. Then learn about your characters by creating a backstory for each of them. It is easiest to start with your main character and you will have the most work to, and hopefully the most fun, with creating your main character’s story before your novel begins.
Do the same for your other characters, but keep in mind their backstories don’t have to be as in-depth as your MC. Some of these side characters will only pop in and out of the story so you won’t need to be as detailed. As for those who stay close to your MC or other characters who your narrator follows, you will need more depth to their stories.
How do I use a character sketch?
As an exercise, consider writing a scenes where your characters meet for the first time—this may or may not end up in your story—but it can be a good place to start learning about how they interact. From this first meeting, you can follow one of the characters and see where they lead you.
What is a character sketch — scene writing loop?
Basically, you start by having two characters meet briefly and leave. To learn about one character follow them. Then go back to the original scene and follow the other character. Try having them meet again after you have learned about them, adjust their interactions as needed. Add an additional character and follow them. Keep doing this until you have substantial depth for each character.
Using character sketches
The coffee shop. Don’t worry about the setting at this point, just get into your characters’ minds and have them say something to each other.
A woman is in line to get her giant morning mocha before she heads to work. There is a guy behind her who is shouting into his phone. She turns and gives him a disapproving look and quickly turns back. She doesn’t want to cause a bigger scene; she just wants to get her coffee and go. The guy didn’t take the hint and continues yelling at whoever he is on the phone with.
She is about to order, but every time she tries to say '20 oz. mocha,' the guy behind her talks.
Finally, she turns and yells, “Will you shut up. I’m trying to order.”
“Back off, lady. Just order and get out. I’m in a hurry.”
“Do you realize you have been disturbing every customer in here for the past ten minutes?”
“Don’t care. Just order your coffee.” He shoos her along.
She turns and orders, but when she goes to step to the side, the man moves forward and bumps her.
What does she do next? What have you learned about the woman?
What I have learned is she stops at this coffee shop every day. She loves coffee, as this is her first cup of the day. She will only take so much rudeness before she speaks up. She cares about others because she mentions his disruption of the other customers as well. And due to the fact she orders her coffee after he shoos her, she doesn’t necessarily want to cause a big scene or enjoy confrontation. As for what happens next, well that will tell me even more about her. One scene can tell you a lot about a character. Begin wondering why she went ahead and ordered. Does she always cower to men? To bullies in general?
And the man? Is he simply having a bad morning? Who is on the other end of the phone? Did they do something wrong or forget to do something that is causing him to yell? Which character should we follow first when the scene is over?
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