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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Outlining Characters

First of all, I would like to apologize for the lateness of this post. It completely slipped my mind... So, again, I'm very sorry.

That said, I would like to talk today about a very important aspect of writing: Outlining Characters.

Over the years, I have discovered a lot of different ways to develop characters. The internet is full of charts and questions and ideas for just such a thing.

But, recently, I created this little thing that has helped me the most. It’s simple and basic, just the bare facts, but, for me, it pretty much captures what I really need to know about my characters before I start writing about them.

So, I thought I would share it with you today. The questions I ask are in bold and then then parts in italics are my explanations. And then, at the end, I have it repeated but with answers instead of explanations.

All right, here goes:

Name: (this one shouldn’t be too hard to figure out :P)

 Age (again, not rocket science)

 Physical Appearance: (This is where I put down everything pertaining to the character’s appearance- hair color, eye color, scars or birthmarks if any, common expressions they wear, normal style of dress, etc.)

 Personality: (Don’t worry about going totally in-depth with this. I just put down the basics- are they introverted or extroverted? Easily stressed or laidback? Are they funny? Serious? What would a friend say about them if they were describing them? But, don’t worry about getting every detail of their personality down.)

 Likes: (This is basically the “my favorite things” game. Just make a list of things they like.)

 Dislikes: (And, this is the opposite of “my favorite things.” This is where you list the things that get on their nerves, the things that irritate them and get under their skin.)

 Fears: (This is where I go deeper than “dislikes.” What are my characters deepest rooted fears? And, I don’t mean those that pertain to the story. Because, obviously a person would be afraid of whatever quest they had to go on. They would be afraid of the obstacles that come along their way. What I mean here is before your hero even starts their quest, what are they afraid of? Spiders? Darkness? Being alone? Getting kidnapped? People? List them here.)

 Wants: (What does your hero want? And, not just to achieve the story goal, because that’s way too basic. This is more for the other things- the things less important to the story goal but more important to your hero. Is it love? Acceptance? A new house? A puppy? Anything your hero wants at the beginning of the story should be listed here.)

 Plans for the Future: (To me, this is the most important question. It should be answered in such a way as if they hero has no idea about what is going to happen to them over the course of the book. This question is about what they want before everything changed for them. And, while they may change their minds about what they want for the future over the course of the story, I still find that the answer to this question determines nearly every choice my hero makes. Because, a hero would choose differently if are planning to become a knight than a hero who wants to live in their little village, safe and comfortable. While they may have to face the same problems, the way they deal with them will be different.)

And, there you have it! Easy, isn't it?

Now, some examples, from a story idea I had a while back (not sure if I’ll ever write it, but if I do, I’ve got two characters developed :P)

We'll start with Andy:

Name: Andrea “Andy” Michael Starr

Age: 16

Physical Appearance: straight, red-orange hair, shines like copper, always wears it in a tight pony tail, few strands escape and frame her face. Brown eyes- a more romantic girl would call them hazel with gold flecks. Long, elegant stature. Small, rounded face. Petite nose. Glasses- black frames, rectangle with rounded corners. No-nonsense, all business expression. Common dress still pending.

Personality: Take charge, leader type. No-nonsense, likes to get a job done right the first time. Doesn’t believe in second chances. Hard working, determined. Gets the job done by whatever means necessary- an “end justifies the means” type of girl. Introverted, prefers to work alone. Doesn’t take orders well.

Likes: A job well done. The color teal. Owls. Silence. Clothes.  Tea. Working alone. Being alone. Aloness.

Dislikes: Carelessness/ a sloppy job. Music. Disloyalty/ betrayal. People who wear their hearts on their sleeve. People. Taking orders. Unwise health choices. A dead weight.

Fears: Failure. Not measuring up. Crowds. Losing her dad. Needles.

Wants: To succeed. To impress her dad/ to be with him. Love/ acceptance.

Plans for the Future: To rank as TSSEA’s Top Agent and become her dad’s partner.

And then there's Marion:

Name: Marion Redford Abernathy

Age: 17

Physical Appearance: Dark hair, blue eyes. Oval face, small nose, large ears. Natural smile, like he wears it all the time and that’s the expression he’s most comfortable with. Average height/ weight. Typical jeans and tee-shirt clothes.

Personality: Easy-going/ laid back. Always gets the job done, but in his own time without stressing about it. Calm and good-natured. Likes to get to know people, figure out how they tick and why. Extroverted. Can be a follower or a leader, depending on what is needed.

Likes: Sleep. People. Music. A good joke/ a reason to laugh. Food. Coffee. Cooking. Books. More sleeping. More people.

Dislikes: Stress. People who hide their emotions. Dishonesty. The belief that the end justifies the means.

Fears: Pointy things. Not measuring up to his family name. Losing himself to become who everyone wants him to be. Heights. Water. Small spaces. Betrayal.

Wants: The freedom to be himself. Acceptance of who he is. To be brave.

Plans for the Future: To be a TSSEA Agent but on his own terms. He wants to join the family business but not if he has to lose who he is to do that. However, he has no Plan B should he be forced to conform and have to look for other options.

And, that's it. My "kind of simple, but rather in-depth character outline." I would strongly recommend doing this for all of your characters- not just the main ones. Because something I think we tend to forget is that every character things they are the main character. So, it’s important to know how they tick, even if they’re only an ally, or the villain, or mentor, or such. But, of course, you can outline as much or as little as you like. This is merely a suggestion.

Hope that was helpful! And, just on a quick note- I shall be at a writer’s workshop next week, so no blog post. I might post something later this week if I get the time (no promises) just as a bonus since y’all won’t be getting anything next week. Or, otherwise, I’ll see you the following week!! :D

How about you? What’s your favorite way to outline for a character?


  1. I found you through Pinterest and pinned this post to my writing board. Anyway, this is a wonderful article. I did outline my characters, but I did it through via an interview process. As I interviewed them, I typed in (...) their facial expressions, body language, tone of voice to give me a better idea of their character. The way we move and talk also says alot about character. My character sheets is very in depth. I even choose astrological signs for them and use those traits--positive and negative.

  2. Oops--I typed so fast, I made some typos---should read "I did it via (cross out through). My character sheets ARE (leave out is). I can't stand it when a sentence is screwed up and hard to read. Sorry about that.

  3. Thank you so much for commenting! I like to extensively outline my characters as well (characters are my favorite part of writing). This is usually just a starting place for me. I usually figure out my characters' Myers-Brigg's personality type but haven't thought to do astrological signs. I shall have to try that next time!!

  4. This is so great! You should include a short bio of characters on this.