A Character Creation Template

Posted: April 9, 2015 in writing
Tags: , , , ,
This scurvy crew are motivated by the longing for booze

These scurvy characters are motivated by the longing for booze

I love templates for the same reason I loved standard operating procedures when I was stuck in an office – they’re a way of making sure you don’t forget important details. Sure, you might need to deviate from them from time to time, but well made structures can help with anything, even the art of writing.

Heck, especially the art of writing.

When I’m writing the flash stories that appear here every Friday, I tend to only use a single plot template. Using a load of different tools for such a short story would be overkill. But when I’m writing a novel or the longer sort of short story, my desire for structure really goes to town, with all sorts of checklists and templates.

Given that a lot of my readers are also writers, I thought it might be useful to share one or two of these. So below is the checklist I use when trying to create a well developed character. I’ve added notes where I felt they’d help. Feel free to use it as you see fit, to let me know if you find it helpful, and to point out anything you think would be worth adding. Like any good process, this is a work in progress, and there’s always room to get better.

Andrew’s Character Template, version 1.2

Name

Concept – what is the core idea for this character? communist inventor? Buddhist adventurer? king of the whales?

Thematic link – how they connect to the theme of my story

Arc – how are they going to change over the course of the story?

Symbol – is there a particular thing that symbolises them within the story? for example, in one novel I’m working on the male lead is connected to blood and the female to fire.

Appearance

Voice – how they talk, especially distinctive words and sentence structures I can use.

Mannerisms

Grounding foibles – a little whimsical interest makes even the most grand of characters more relatable.

Story goal – what are they trying to achieve on the surface?

Deeper drive – what’s the deeper drive, perhaps never explicitly stated, that pushes them on? even ink and paper people deserve a subconscious.

Competence, proactivity and sympathy – which of these are they weaker and stronger in? in what way? a character who lacks all of them is unappealing, one who’s strong in them all becomes too flawlessly good (I stole this idea from a Writing Excuses episode)

Fundamental weakness – the one that runs deepest and causes them the most problems.

Flaws / faults

Response to pain – borrowed from someone I worked with on a ghostwriting project, this can be very telling about the character – when they’re hurt, physically or mentally, do they run, hide, fight back, try not to let it show?

Desire for survival affecting choices – this and the following four are borrowed from choice theory – how do these psychological drivers affect the character’s behaviour? which make the most difference? how do they come into conflict?

Desire for power affecting choices

Desire for freedom affecting choices

Desire for love & belonging affecting choices

Desire for fun & learning affecting choices

Conflicting characteristics – because internal conflict is interesting, and real people aren’t entirely consistent.

Family – who, where, etc.

What do they think makes them unique? – we all think we’re special in some way, and what we think we’re great at isn’t always the reality – another little detail to make the character more real.

Comments
  1. Lovely, Andrew! I have a similar template of my own that I use, but yours is much simpler–and I find it very user-friendly. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Unlike most character creation templates, THIS one looks quite useful and relevant. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Sue Archer says:

    This looks very useful, thank you Andrew!

  4. Steve Hartline says:

    Very useful – thanks Andrew. I’ve often times resorted to using GURPS to help define a character, but that stats him out out only. If I need her to have depth, this is a fantastic idea. I just started reading “Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook” by Donald Maass. His first section is devoted entirely to adding depth as well. Good stuff!

    • I’ve sometimes taken stuff from roleplay games too, and with its sheer range of sourcebooks GURPS can be a great source for diverse inspiration. We’ve just cleared out some books to make space, and even though I haven’t played GURPS in years I made sure we hung on to some of those books.

      You’re the second person to mention Maass to me this week. I hadn’t heard of him before, but he’s now on my to-read list.

  5. […] to bounce off and a reminder of all the things it’s good to consider. When I put up my character template a few weeks back some people found it useful, so here’s another one, this time for writing […]

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