What is a character sheet?
The term comes from the world of pen & paper role-playing games. Such role-playing games are usually thematically in the fantasy or science fiction area. Each participant in the game takes on the role of a certain character. The essential characteristics of the individual characters are listed on so-called character sheets.
Character arcs have become established among novelists as a way to plan their own characters and make them vivid for themselves. Not all information is to be included in the novel, but it rather helps the author to get to know the characters and to portray them authentically. It is not only about appearance, the most important character traits and quirks, but also the experiences from childhood.
If you think carefully about what makes your character tick and what life story has made them the character they are, they will come alive in your mind's eye. This makes it easier for you to bring them to life in the story. In addition, the character sheets help you keep track of the characters and their idiosyncrasies.
There are different ways to build up characters. One of them is the Snowflake Method. It can also help to conduct interviews with your protagonists or to expose them to a situation and observe how they deal with it. As a supplementary step, however, a character sheet can help you in any case.
Do I really need a character sheet?
Let's say you're working on a fantasy novel that's several hundred pages long. How many characters will appear in it? Maybe ten main characters, plus countless secondary characters, some of whom appear only briefly but are necessary to the plot. To keep track of the characters and their motives, it doesn't hurt to create character arcs for them. Even in novels where fewer characters are laid out, they need to act believably and according to their values. Character sheets help you to keep track of them.
Example: Suppose one of your protagonists is a temperamental and unpredictable fighter. Then you should know exactly the character's rather impetuous nature as well as his stature and muscularity. Why is it so impulsive? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? What does she want to achieve? You can record all of this on the character sheet. This will also help you avoid describing the character differently throughout the novel and disappointing your readers with illogical passages.
Just as you can change your storyline with, say, the Arc of suspense If you want to keep the thread going, you can also roughly define your characters in advance.
When should I fill out the character sheet?
You don't have to know everything about your characters before you start writing. A lot only becomes apparent when the protagonist is in the story and develops with it and your new ideas. That's why it's a good idea to fill in and add to your character sheet as you write your novel. While it doesn't hurt to jot down a few external traits and characteristics in advance, take the freedom to rethink, change, and adapt the traits to the plot as you write.
What information should the character sheet contain?
From appearance to personality to life story, you can write anything in the character sheet that will help you get to know your character better and bring them to life. Don't forget to note their development throughout the novel so you don't lose sight of this goal. Below is an example of a character sheet that you can add to or modify as you wish.
facts and figures
- Age, date of birth
- Marital status
Appearance and physical characteristics
- Eye and hair color, hairstyle
- Size and weight
- Stature and physique, posture
- Accurate description of face and facial expressions
- Voice and tonality
- Dress style
- Physical health, diseases
Personality and inner qualities
- Inner attitude and morals
- Attitude towards life (optimistic, pessimistic, social, combative, egoistic etc.)
- Outstanding positive and negative qualities (forward-looking, cheerful, strong-willed, fickle, choleric, etc.).
- needs and wants
- Habits, recurring behaviour in certain situations
- Tastes and preferences
- Hobbies and interests
Personal and social environment
- Family background and upbringing
- Marital status and partners and former partners, love life
- Friends of
- Professional environment
- Relationship with partner, family members and friends as well as colleagues
- Social status
- Childhood and youth
Role and development of the character in the novel
- What is the character's task or calling?
- What role does it have within the plot?
- What is her relationship to other characters?
- What is the character influenced by?
- How does the character develop in the novel? Positively or negatively? Personal development or failure?
- How does the character influence the story?
- Who is sympathetic to her? Who is her adversary?
The more characters there are in a novel, the more helpful and valuable it is to work with character arcs. But also in a romance novel or ThrillerYou can use it to get to know the characters better and make them authentic and exciting. Add to the character arc as you write, and don't be afraid to delete traits that no longer fit. But don't spend too long planning and thinking ahead. A lot of things only develop when you start writing.