Create an Outline of Your Character
Students create outlines to write essays. It helps them keep all of their ideas in one place and allows them to see the framework of the essay. If you are a writer who prefers organization, you might want to consider writing an outline of your character. This particular outline below details what you should include in a character outline:
I. Physical Description
1. the color
2. the style it is normally kept in
3. any striking features about it
1. their color
2. glasses or no glasses?
3. any striking features about them
3. body type
D. Style of Dress
1. clothing style
2. particular colors
3. regular outfits
1. a particular accent
2. certain words or phrases the person might say
F. How Character Feels About Physical Appearance
1. brief sentence or two about the character’s feelings about their appearance written from character’s view
2. ways the character appears to be working on their appearance
1. certain little thing the character likes to do, like tearing up napkins while waiting for food at a restaurant
2. another certain little thing the character likes to do
B. Bad Habits
1. Bad Habit 1
2. Bad Habit 2
1. Like 1
2. Like 2
1. Dislike 1
2. Dislike 2
1. sibling 1
2. sibling 2
C. Extended Family
1. extended family member 1
2. extended family member 2
A. Hobby 1
1. details about hobby
2. character’s feelings about hobby
B. Hobby 2
1. details about hobby
2. character’s feelings about hobby
3. character’s feelings about childhood
B. Teen Years
3. character’s feelings about teen years
C. Young Adulthood
3. character’s feelings about young adulthood
D. Just Before the Story Begins
3. character’s feelings about events
A. Inner Conflicts
B. Outer Conflicts
When listing the hobbies, include as many hobbies as you want for your character. It doesn’t have to be just two. The history should reflect the age of your character. If your character is a child, you’re likely only going to have some of their childhood history and some about what’s been happening just before your story takes place.
Go into as much detail as you possibly can. This makes up the framework of your character. The more you know about your character, the easier it will be to write that character as your story progresses. Note that the lists under the subtopics can be changed to suit your needs. If your character has a lot of events to cover in their history, just add more events under the subtopics.
Try to limit the extended family to members important to the story. When writing about family, don’t forget to include certain important things. For example, if your character was raised by a single mother be sure to jot that down underneath the mother portion. If the father isn’t important for the story, you can easily take that part out too. Here’s an example of this outline being used to create a character sketch. Take part in a novel writing workshop. -Is this class okay? It does say “workshop” in the course so does it need an addition of specifying that it’s a course?
Answer Questions in Paragraph Form
If an outline seems too rigid and limiting for your creativity, consider creating a “mini story” about your character. Do this by answering a couple of questions and using descriptive language as much as possible. Below are a couple of questions you can use to start your mini story. Overcome writer’s block to keep that creativity flowing with this course.
What does your character look like physically?
Describe your character as if you had just passed him or her on the street. Don’t list it out like the outline does. Instead, create a paragraph describing your character to the reader. Here’s a good example using the character created with the outline above:
Sunday had her auburn hair pulled up in its usual bun. She liked to say it helped keep her hair out of her way when reading her Bible. As she sat down in the straight-backed chair, she smoothed out her tan skirt and adjusted the sleeves of her collared shirt. Crossing her legs, she set her Bible in her lap as she waited for the sermon to start.
This particular paragraph delves a little into her personality and a little about who she is as a person. This is great when using an open-ended character sketch like this. If you prefer to have a little more organization, however, you can write a paragraph that would only describe her physical appearance:
Sunday has red hair and green eyes. Her hair is usually pulled up into a tight bun, and she wears glasses. She could be considered average as far as weight and height. Her style of dress is conservative, preferring pastels and tan colors. She usually wears a collared shirt and skirt, and she has a cross necklace around her neck every day. She speaks with a Californian accent, and a phrase she commonly says when excited, startled, or scared is “Oh, my goodness!”
How does she act? What are her likes and dislikes?
This particular question should be answered by describing your character’s personality and her likes and dislikes. Think of a list of adjectives you might use to describe your character, and use those in your paragraph. This paragraph might not be as long as her physical description, and that’s okay. Here’s an example of a paragraph describing the character’s personality. Again, the character used is the same character from the outline above.
Sunday is kind, polite, and patient. She does have a tendency to lose track of time so she’s not very punctual, but she’s always willing to help. Whenever she’s worried or anxious, she’ll finger the cross she wears around her neck, and she always makes certain to cross her legs when she’s seated because she’s conservative. She’s not very punctual, has a peanut allergy, and whenever she sees an injured or homeless pet, she tries to help it. She loves cats, gardening, and singing. She dislikes rude people or seeing a homeless or wounded animal.
This gives the reader a snapshot of how the character acts. Use this snapshot, and revisit it as you’re writing your character.
What happened to the character in the past?
This question touches on her history. Again, try to go into as much detail as you possibly can, and expect this particular section to be more than a single paragraph answer. Completed your book already? Become a bestselling author on the Amazon Kindle by taking this course. Here’s an example of what the character’s history would look like written this way:
Sunday was a bright, happy child. When she was five, her aunt April took her to church. She became enraptured with the Christian faith and wanted to go every week. April continued to take her and helped guide her through her faith. When Sunday was ten, she made the decision to be baptized. Her faith interested her parents, and she took them to a sermon with her aunt when she was eleven. Her parents soon joined her, and the three of them learned more together.
At sixteen, Sunday became an active volunteer at her church including singing on stage at the weekly fellowships. When she was seventeen, she led a teen Bible study at her parents’ home. She graduated high school and quickly began applying for Christian colleges. She made it into her college of choice at eighteen.
These two paragraphs explain everything that happened to Sunday as a child, in her teen years, and just before the story begins. For some writers, this particular style of character sketch might be easier to glance back at during the writing process. For others, the outline might be better. You can also decide to use both – create an outline first, then write up paragraphs using the outline as a guide.
Pick Character Traits First, and Create a Character to Match
This particular character sketch uses an idea taken from the Fiction Writers’ Mentor. Using a list of character traits from the same website, you pick three numbers from 1 to 447, which are the number of traits listed on the page. With those three traits, you then build a character that matches those traits.
This character sketch can include the outline model or the open-answer paragraph model, or you can simply free write until you feel like you know the character. This particular character sketch example gives you the freedom to do whatever is best for you and your creativity without feeling like you have to follow particular rules.
To give you an example of just how fun this particular character sketch can be, check out the paragraph below. The numbers 12, 37, and 251 were chosen at random. These numbers are allocated to the traits amiable, brave, and light-hearted. These traits have been applied to the character used in every example.
Sunday always smiled at everyone she met. She liked to say you never knew what something as simple as a smile could do to change someone’s day completely. Walking down the sidewalk toward the church, she smiled and greeted each person with a friendly “Hello!”
The sound of honking horns drew her attention from her path to the street. She stopped short, her mouth dropping open. A small, brown dog limped across the road, tail between its legs as it struggled as quickly as possible to get out of the cars way. Running down the street, she dart across the street with no thought about other passing vehicles and scooped the little creature into her arms before running back across the street.
Kneeling, she set the dog down with a soft smile. “There,” she murmured. “You’re safe now.”
The dog looked up at her, let out a small bark then began limping away once more.
As you can see, the little snapshot above gives us a lot of insight into Sunday’s personality and weaknesses. However, there isn’t much to go off of as far as her physical description.
One Final Piece of Advice
Creating a character sketch depends on your needs for your story, your personality, and your creativity. If you prefer rules and rigidness, an outline might be the best thing for you. If you prefer more freedom, the open-ended questions and answers may be more your style. If you’re really a seat-of-your-pants writer, you might want to just pick some character traits from Fiction Writers’ Mentor, and wing it. You might even consider combining all three to have an extremely detailed picture of who your character is. If you’re looking for more creative writing techniques, try this helpful blog post.