Crafting characters and building the world around them is one of the most important first steps in creative writing. So, how do you get started? The entire story revolves around a core set of characters — so the quality of your story depends on your world and characters.

Use a character sketch to complete the design of each important character in your story. A good character sketch tells you everything that you need to know about your character. Use it throughout the writing process to ensure that your character makes sense in the story. Here is how to develop a character sketch.

What is a character sketch? 

Retro cartoon

A character sketch is a tool that represents everything that you need to know about a character. It consists of:

Character sketches should provide everything that you need to know about a character. You know that it is complete when your character feels like a real person. 

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What is the purpose of a character sketch?

A character sketch allows writers to create more realistic, more interesting characters. It is a good way to know how characters make decisions, take action, and show themselves as people. 

It also allows you to map out their personality traits. These traits determine how they react to problems in the story. As the story goes on, your character will experience personality changes. Write this in the character sketch as much as possible. 

Character sketches are also useful for showing what skills and abilities a character has. These determine what a character does when problems arise. They help develop how your character reacts in various situations. They also give the character depth.

Reasons you need to create a character sketch

Character sketches are a great way to make sure that your character is three-dimensional. They help you write more interesting characters and create people who have real motivations for their actions. Your story will feel more solidly grounded in the world if it has realistic characters.

A useful character sketch ensures that your character does what they need to. In addition, you use it as a reference source when you struggle with decisions about how your character should act. 

Planning out the character from the beginning allows you to define what they do throughout the story. In addition, it helps you determine the events needed for character growth, which helps make them feel more like a real person.

Benefits of creating a character sketch

Character sketches can help make your story more realistic. A character sketch helps you to develop your character into a three-dimensional person who reacts in a way that fits what you believe they are. The more realistic your characters feel the more immersed your reader will be in the story.

A character sketch also gives you tools for planning out how to write your character’s inner life. This helps define character traits.

How to get inside your character’s head

A critical part of creating a realistic character is getting inside their head. This means understanding what they think and feel about everything that happens to them in the story. 

To do this, create a character profile for each character. In it, talk about how they view the world and how those views affect their decisions.

It can be helpful to learn more about third person writing before you begin your own character sketches. Udemy has courses that can help you with character design, drawing, and story planning. 

Answer questions about your character

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 is to write that character as your story progresses. If your character has many events to cover in their history, just add more events under the subtopics.

What does your character look like physically?

Describe your character as if you had just passed them on the street. Don’t list it out as the outline does. Instead, create a paragraph describing your character to the reader. Focus on what the character looks like. It can help to draw the character if you have the skills to do that. 

How does she act?

Your character makes decisions based on her likes, dislikes, and personality. Think of a list of adjectives you might use to describe your character, and use those in your paragraph. 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. Expect to write a few paragraphs or more. Focus on meaningful, formative events in the character’s past. These events help define your character’s actions. They can also drive the story and personality changes later. 

What are their hobbies?

When listing the hobbies, include as many hobbies as you want for your character. 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.

What does your character like and dislike?

Understanding what your character likes and dislikes helps understand motivations. For example, people have certain things they want to do and things they do not want to do. These are their likes and dislikes. 

For example, if a character dislikes spending time with most people but likes spending time with their child, they choose to spend time with their child instead of going out for a drink with friends.

How does your character feel about other characters?

Knowing how a character feels about another character in the story helps you write more realistic scenes. For example, if a character feels attracted to another character, they might get nervous and stutter when talking to them. If a character dislikes another character, they might dismiss that person in conversation or insult and berate that person.

How to create an outline of your character

Character outlines are useful for getting a comprehensive overview of what you need to know about your character. An outline is simply a document where you detail every aspect of your character. It can include things like:

This allows you to keep all of the information organized in one place rather than searching through various writing notes looking for the information you need.

Pick character traits first, and create a character to match

The first thing to do is to pick traits. Write down the character traits that you think your character should have. Next, choose the character type that you want your character to be. Write down the keywords of that type. Write down a few things that describe your character and what they do. Once you’ve written these things down, look through them and pick out pieces that seem essential or interesting.

Select a physical appearance

Second, you have to pick out the physical traits of your character. Look at your character sketch and think about the things that you’ve written down. Think about how well they’re described and how much personality they have. This includes hair color, weight, height, size, and age.

Choose important details

Every character has a set of important details in their look. For example, many authors use color schemes to define their characters. During this step, it’s recommended that you also choose their clothing and accessories color so that it complements the overall theme of your story or the choice of colors supporting a specific theme within your story. Build your character’s design around these important details so everything is cohesive. 

Create a name

Name your character. It’s also recommended to give the character a nickname. Match both to their personality.

Flesh out your character sketch by adding some more details

Now you’ve got a basic idea of your character. You’ve got the personality, physical appearance, and maybe even some background to go with it. But there’s still more that you can do to your character sketch. 

The next step is to flesh out your character sketch by adding some more details about them. You can create a short story in which your character plays the main role. You can create an objective for your character to fulfill. You can give them a goal they have to accomplish during the story.

Adjectives to use in a character sketch

So many different adjectives describe a character. This chart provides some ideas. 

AlertAggressiveArrogantBrainyDaintyMacho
ClumsyCreepyDepressedMeanNaughtyNervous
FrailJitteryLazyWealthyVulgarTall
BeautifulBlushingCheerfulSleepySuccessfulUgly
ExcitedFancyFilthyPoorQuaintScary
NervousObedientPlainUptightVivaciousWide-eyed

Quality is in the details

Your character sketch becomes something special when you get the fine details right. Here are some tips to help you refine the small details. 

Give your character backstory

To make your character three-dimensional, create a backstory. Your character existed before the start of the story, and any events that came before helped form your character. Defining the backstory helps you make your character more detailed and can drive the story. 

Give them personality

Make your character as real as you can. This means having a personality so that the way that they interact with others is more realistic. Personality drives the reader’s connection with the characters and the story. 

Make their goals real

If you don’t know what your characters want from the beginning, it’s unlikely that they’ll have any sort of “motivation.” Characters in stories need some sort of motivation to do things. Otherwise, they don’t actually do anything. Make sure your character sketch has a set of goals that will drive them forward through the story.

Make sure they are not unrealistic goals that will create obstacles. If your character wants to become a millionaire but is always too lazy to work at their job, then this goal is unrealistic.

Make them work for their goals. Your character sketch should have a set of realistic goals. A character that has a goal of becoming a millionaire will be hard-pressed to achieve it with no effort.

Give them a flaw or obstacle

No character is perfect and can come off as boring or unrealistic if they don’t have any sort of flaw. No one is perfect, and the characters that are truly interesting and relatable do have flaws. 

Flawed characters are so relatable because we see hope in them. We can relate to their struggles and empathize with their shortcomings. If your character has no flaw, then they are not relatable.

Give them a beginning, a middle, and an end

This goes along with the fact that you should write your characters as true to form as possible. A good realistic story has:

Tips for writing a character sketch

Writing a character sketch has many nuances that make a big difference. That is why many authors refine their methods between books to create better characters. Here are some tips that can help you write a character sketch.

The more you finish character sketches, the better at it you become. It can be helpful to practice making character sketches even if you do not use them in your next project. Use these tips to rewrite or refine your sketches with every new version that you write. 

Common mistakes that people make with character sketches

Several common issues come up when writing character sketches. Unfortunately, many writers do not realize their mistakes until it is far too late. Prevent problems in your story by avoiding these common mistakes that people make with character sketches. 

They don’t define the characters correctly

The most common mistake I see with character sketches is that people don’t define the characters they’re writing about enough. It gives them a name and an appearance, but that’s about it. You don’t want to make a character sketch without making sure you define the character with whatever little details you can.

Their goals aren’t realistic

The second most common mistake is unrealistic character goals. This makes them not relatable or interesting and sometimes even downright boring. Goals need to be realistic for them to have any sort of interest in the story; without motivation, a character doesn’t do anything.

They’re not relatable

The most important thing of all when creating a character sketch is making sure they’re relatable and realistic. People are complicated, and the most interesting characters are those that you can relate to on some level. This means giving them flaws and defining their personalities through their actions and words.

They don’t have a beginning, middle, or end

A character is only complete if it undergoes change and character growth. It is unrelatable to think that a character won’t change after going through the events of a story. Use the character sketch to make sure that the character changes in a believable way throughout.

The characters lack depth

The last thing you don’t want is for your character to lack depth in personality and be boring as a result. Characters seem real when small details make sense and add depth. 

Character sketch example

It can be helpful to see a completed character sketch when writing your own. This is an example of a character sketch.

Name: Ray Thorston

At 25-years-old, Ray stands 5’9” with a muscular build, long black hair, light skin, and black eyes. His glasses have a large, circular frame, and the lenses make his eyes look bigger. He wears a black suit vest and pants with a white shirt and navy blue tie loosely around his neck. A brown leather belt, brown leader shoes, and a silver wristwatch on his left wrist are the only accessories he ever has. He doesn’t believe in carrying many items since they will only slow him down.

Ray is serious all of the time and is successful in his office job. Always being serious makes it hard to form friendships at work or dating. He doesn’t see a problem with his personality. He wants to take over the company one day. 

Ray spends time working all day and into the night. He is the last person to leave the office. Everyone thinks he does more for the company than anyone else. He doesn’t have a problem working this hard since it gets him closer to his goal. Meeting someone special, [LOVE INTEREST] changes his mind.

Ray slowly changes. He starts to question his work ethic and if it means something. A setback at work makes Ray question if the company values him. Ray focuses on his personal relationship. He must decide whether to stay and continue his career or go with [LOVE INTEREST]. 

Ray learns that life is more than work, and he is not valuable to the company. He decides to leave with [LOVE INTEREST] and try to live a happy life where they are together. 

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 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.

Page Last Updated: September 2021

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