Quick character sheets for writers.

I’m outlining a novella, because a sinner never sleeps, right? (It MIGHT have something to do with this. *shifty eyes*)

I’ve got some characters and groups that I want to have some info worked out for as I outline. I don’t always go character first, but I do sometimes do characters kind of at the same time. My process is rarely linear, and in this case I couldn’t really finish up plot until I had more of why the characters are doing what they’re doing before I could figure out what happens next. It’s a thing. Out of curiosity I hit up pinterest and the googles checking to see what people have out there as far as character sheets go.

…hours later…

Yeah, I don’t need a five hundred question work sheet. I don’t need ‘ultimate’ anything. I need something to jot down the juicy shit as fast as I can and move the fuck on. I’ve had my own methods over the years, mind you, but I like to adapt and change and compare what I’ve been doing to what others are doing to rethink. Always. I took a look at some old notes and this is what I had.

Boy, I need to finish that novel/visual novel. [Handwritten notes on three characters.]
Don’t get me wrong. This is pretty cool to me because it gives you some basic stuff very fast. Let me break that all down a little bit.

Name: Duh. A tag line/occupation/easy identifier. If you’re tracking a few story lines, you might color code this or indicate that here in the tag line. (‘Into a werewolf’ helps remind me of that main story line for Diana, for example.)

She/He/They Want: This is that thing that keeps pushing them forward. The thing they don’t have or are determined to keep at all costs. This is the thing that the character would chase even if they weren’t involved in your storylines.

She/He/They Fear(s): Duh. This is not like ‘spiders’ but a fear that might propel the character to make bad choices. “I’m a rational person, and rationally know I should NEVER go into business with this guy, but my fear of spiders is so crippling that I will make this deal because spiders.” Only, you want something a little more sensible than that. What makes your character make bad choices?

She/He/They Loves: This could go either way, it might motivate the character to greater goodness, it might drive them to make bad choices too, depending on how self destructive their love is. “I will honour mom at all costs” could probably go pretty good. “I don’t care what he dun, I’ll love him for all time and will get him out of prison” is less so. Again, this is about conflict how that might complicate the character’s choices and decisions.

In His/Her Pocket: This is a little touchy-feely. I personally really like to ground my character traits in something physical item. You could do this the other way too, by deciding what’s in the pocket first, and define what it means as you’re writing later. (Are you a pantser who wants to track what you’re doing after? This technique is fun at keep your words flowing without limiting your flow.) You could skip this and replace it with a physical mannerism, a vocal quirk, or whatever you need to come back to over and over as you write. Ideally though, you’re keeping this very very short. If you need to expand on a character, give her her own bullet point page and unpack her. If you do give her her own page to unpack, make sure you add that page number here in the log.

What happened when I looked at this for my new project though I realized it wasn’t holding my hand directly enough. While I like the touch feely bit about the character’s pocket, it didn’t feel efficient enough. So after giving it some thought, I decided to go with a set of three ‘rules’ to consider when writing the character or organization. That is, if I had to pass my character off to another writer, what things would I feel keep the character true no matter who is behind them. Here’s what I ended up with in my notebook.

I don’t think we’ve got any spoilers here. [hand written notes describing four characters.]
This is pretty good, actually. I feel comfortable that I have a lot of guidelines down to quickly grab character motivation, hard limits, and mood, and it really didn’t take up much space at all! Now, how about we make it a little neater?

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 5.19.57 PM
Yeah, that’s the shit. [Digital version of the short character sheet described above.]

I printed out four of these bad boys on a sheet, cut ’em out, and grabbed my washi tape. Because basically anything as an excuse to break out the washi tape!

Arts and crafts and washi tape! [Printed copies of the quick character sheet, scissors, and washi tape.]
I filled out some quick sheets on my main character and a group. The way these sheets are designed, you can cover a group organization or say, a political movement just as easily as you can a person. Then I stuck ’em in my writer’s bible/notebook with that sweet sweet washi tape! Yeeeaaaahhhh boy!

Look at those cute kitties! [Two quick character sheets taped into a notebook and filled in.]
Luci, the main character, with her sheet there on the right, is missing a rule. That’s okay! I figure as I get more finished of the outline or even start writing, that third rule will come to mind. Also, because I’m using washi tape, I can pull out a sheet and replace it if it turns out that I need to redo a set of rules. Characters evolve. You have to be ready for that.

Put a ring on it. [Character sheets taped into a notebook and connected on a ring designed for flash cards and stationary.]
After I taped some characters into my notebook, it occurred to me that you might want something more tactile. There’s something very satisfying about having your info on a ring you can flip through. I don’t even know why. So I’m just putting out there, a hole punch and a flashcard ring could have you easily satisfied in that way.

I want to note too, you don’t need to print character sheets if you like this idea. I could have stopped with hand writing the short hand notes in my notebook. I could have thrown them on index cards. I could have done a lot of things! And so can you!

If you like these cute little sheets, though, you can either grab the image above and figure out how to print it out yourself, or, you can scroll down a little and sign up for my newsletter. I’ll update you on future writer’s advice and organizational tricks, fiction, and sales on my available work. It shouldn’t be a big deal, I won’t email you often. (I don’t have time for it, frankly. :D)

And do remember you can now pre-order my nufirst novel Dead Machines, a full length novel about giant robots, motherhood and ghosts. Grab your pre-order for Amazon Kindle here!

And finally, if you stop by my Dead Machines Live People Book Release Extravaganza MEGA POST you can see the TENS of authors and creators I’m interviewing this month to celebrate my book release. There are contests. It’s fantastic!

Sign up for my newsletter and get a cute free worksheet!



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