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Writing Tips 7 - Character Guide

02/03/2020

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Last time I talked about backstory and important it is for flushing out your characters and knowing them like a psychometric mind reader.

This time, I'm gonna show you how I do that and it's by way of a Character Guide. Beautiful things, character guides.

It's exactly what it sounds like. It's a guide for you to keep all the information about your characters so you can keep them in line with who they are and determine what they would do and more importantly, what they wouldn't.

This is a basic layout of the sheet I fill out and use every time I create a character.

Full Name: Sometimes I include nicknames on this line, usually if they go by a nickname I put that first and then their full name, also their initials are quite useful to have here too.

Age: This and everything marked with a ♦ can be grouped into Physical Appearance

Height:

Sometimes I add weight here if it's relevant or just something to keep in mind. Like if you have a centaur they're hardly gonna weigh the same as a human.

Birth Date: [july 9th] [Unknown] [Not applicable] etc

Physical appearance: Their physical appearance or just appearance.

Race: ♦ This is especially useful when you have non-human races in the world. Like [Vampire] [Elf] [Dwarf] [Human] [Merfolk] [(alien species)] [Golem] [Shadow] [Not Applicable] etc

Ethnicity: ♦ It's useful to use this to suggest and remind for cultural background. It can be anything from the ethnicity you are familiar with, to things like [northerner] [westerner] [swamp tribe] [(kingdom's name)] [Not applicable] [(what planet they're from)] etc

Family: Self-explanatory; this is where you write what family they have, if any. I usually put a (deceased) tag or something next to family members that are gone.

Position in family: [Eldest child] [Grandmother] [Not applicable] [Youngest child] [Father] [Mother] etc

Personality Traits: These are how you would describe their personality to yourself, so you know how they behave. I would limit it to 1 or 2 per thing because it's just to help you remember how they are. Keep in mind that these traits are their core personality, not things they feel on occasion but are near constant.

  • Base- How they are most of the time. [Cheerful] [Withdrawn] [Callous] [Optimistic] etc
  • Supportive- These are traits that aren't base but appear often enough that they're integral to who this person is. [Funny] [Charming] [Calculative] [Fierce] [Scheming] etc
  • Fatal- This is what's called a character flaw. This is the thing they either don't like about themselves or is the thing others would point to when saying "You know what your problem is?" [Scheming] [Sympathetic] [Narcissistic] [Distrustful] [Guarded] etc
  • Hidden- This is that dual side to people that you don't often see. Like a stoic person who's actually loving, or a funny guy who's actually depressed or angry, the cheerful person who's actually cynical & bitter, a very smart cold person who's tormented in loneliness because of their own intellect, I'm sure you can think of a few people/characters just like this. [Lonely] [Self-conscious] [Anguished] [Bitter] [Tired] [Loving] [Noble] etc

Life motto(s): Their life motto. A sort of quote or phrase they strive or seem to live by.

General Feel: (first impression) How you or someone else would see them as meeting for the first time. Like distant, lethargic but hardworking, frazzled and unorganized but fun, etc.

Describe them in one sentence: Think as if you were describing a friend to someone, or a sentence that pretty much sums them up; we all have a sentence like that. Like 'bottomless pit for food'.

Skills: [lock picking] [fire magic] [logic/reasoning] [strategic thinking] [debating] etc

Hobbies: [reading] [writing] [cooking] [dance] [singing] [rock climbing] [bird watching] [D&D] [larping] etc. I specifically use this to determine what kind of things they do in their free time, what they do for fun, what they're passionate about. That thing you'd almost always rather be doing.

Specified likes: This is for keeping track of the relevant things they like. Things that will or could make it into the story at some point. Like, [dogs] [pizza & grape soda] [chicken noodle soup] [(a specific band or type of music)] []

Specified dislikes: Same thing ^ but opposite. The things that irk them. [beer] [olives] [fish] [dirt on their shoes] [people saying birb instead of bird] [hair on the soap] [the color orange] [(arch nemesis name)] etc.

Relationship Status from start: [married] [single to taken] [not applicable] [widowed] etc

Role in story: [MC] [support character] [best friend] [love interest]  [Opposition] [bad guy] [family of MC] etc (remember there can be more than one character who fill these roles; like you can have more than 1 MC and definitely more than 1 support character)

Other: This is where I write details that don't fit anywhere else, like: allergic to fish, 

Backstory: self explanatory. This is where you describe their origins, any event of significance; character defining moments or simply where they came from.

All of these points are important to know about your character, you can adjust the format or how details are written for what works for you. You can merge some of them, especially in describing appearance (like you can couple age & height in there) so long as it makes sense to you.

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