A character sketch isn’t a literal drawing of a character – though one may choose to do this as well – but a popular first step in building a character for your story. A character sketch can be helpful in making sure your characters are detailed and fully complex. Not everyone wants to do a character sketch before writing, but for those who do here are some features to consider including.
What does your character look like? Are they masculine, feminine, or androgynous? What color eyes or hair do they have? Do they even have hair? Maybe they have facial hair or a mole. How tall are they? Any other distinguishing features?
For this section, you want to include the things that another character will see when they encounter this character, as well as, what you want your reader to know about how this character looks.
You don’t have to include every detail in your story and you don’t have to simply list the characteristics for your reader like you do in your sketch. For example, instead of saying your character’s height, you can let the reader know that they are taller than another character.
You can go as in depth or as bare-bones as you’d like into your character’s family history, but it is a good idea to have some sort of family tree for them. Unless your character just poof-ed into existence one day, they have to have a family somewhere. Even if they are a robot, they have a creator. If you character never knew their parents, that is a form of family history; even if it never makes it into your story, it may be a good idea to know who their parents were anyway and how they got separated from them.
If there are absolutely no family to be talked about, consider knowing your character’s creation story at the very least. Again, even if none of it makes it in the final draft of the story, it is a good idea to know where your character comes from.
This is the history which is personal to the character in question. This includes facets of their life like: how they were raised, where they went to school, their first crush, their first heartbreak, the first time they traveled abroad, and any other salient memories which may have shaped your character into the person they are today.
This background is especially important if an occurrence in or aspect of their past is being used as motivation for their actions throughout to the course of the story.
These are the attributes, either physical, mental, or otherwise that your character brings to the table. These are their best features, everything about them that is helpful or lovable. Some possible strengths include: physical strength, quick thinking or critical thinking skills, specific knowledge of a specialized field of study, a kind heart and generous attitude, access to a wealth of resources, or courage. They may be traits that they have always had or ones that they grow into over the course of the story. The character may not know that they possess these traits, but – hopefully – your reader will.
These are the opposite of strengths. These are the traits which hold back your character from being the best they can be or from reaching their goals. These qualities could include: physical weakness, cowardice, egotism, or gullibility.
Some of the strengths and weaknesses can be rooted in the same core trait but separated into different aspects. For example, a person who is kind-hearted may have strength in their empathy, but may also be a push over when trying to help others.
Likes, dislikes, and activities:
This can include hobbies, work, favorite books, and more. In order for a character to have a personality, they need to have things they both like and dislike, as well as things to do. It’s as simple as that.
Traits, speech patterns, habits, etc:
Slightly different than the previous category, these are things that a character does, usually, unintentionally. Some examples include: biting their lip, twirling their hair, crossing their legs, speaking with a stutter, and squinting their eyes, just to name a few.
These aren’t things that a person does every once in a while, everyone does the aforementioned actions once in a while, but things that the person does frequently to the point that they are noticeable to others.
Goals and motivation:
What does your character want? This can span from the immediate to the lifelong goals. What is your character going after throughout the course of the story? Make sure to also consider their motivation. What drives their actions? Why do they want the things they want? You need your character to have both. Even if the goal is as simple as surviving.
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Kim Batchelor is a recent graduate of University of Michigan and avid consumer of media. She is the Buzz Manager at BookHive and is working on creating her own blog.