Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Creating Compelling Characters: The Character Chart

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

As a writer, I am always learning. And I hope that will never stop. If it does, it's probably because I've retired from writing. Or I've gotten too big for my britches, which in that case, I had better retire.

All that to say, I've created a new character worksheet. I shared my old one with you over a year ago. But as I've learned what works for me, my methods change.

When I'm starting a new story, I need to spend some time creating my characters. This doesn't happen all at once. I get to know my characters. Then I write. I learn new things about my characters. They change. And then I go back to my character worksheets and tweak. Or maybe this is the point where I start filling out the worksheet for characters who have swooped in and given themselves a larger role than I had intended for them to have.

I create a character worksheet for all of my important characters. That means all my main characters and all the smaller characters who I deem important to the story. My character worksheet helps me find who my characters are. It is a handy quick reference when I need to remember something about a character. And as I mentioned at the start, my character worksheet is always changing.

Here is my new character worksheet. Click the picture to see it up close and to print, if you'd like. If the link doesn't work, click here.


Over the next few weeks, I'm going to walk you through my process with one of my new characters from the Kinsman Chronicles. (Which I had once called Evenroot and, who knows? By the time it's published, the title might change again!)

Name: Prince Trevyn Echad Chorek Nathek Hadar of Armania

A while back, I experienced a few days of obsession with Prince William's new son George and Googled like crazy wanting to learn what was going on. During that time, I discovered Prince William's full name. It was so crazy long that I decided to steal that for the princes in my WIP. Therefore, Trevyn's name is very long. Each name simply works its way up his family tree. For example, his father is Echad. His grandfather is Chorek, etc.

Age: 14

Trevyn is fourteen at the start of the story. He is two months from turning fifteen. In this world fifteen is the age of majority or adulthood. This is because the kingdom (and the king, especially) is suspicious about the number five. In fact, the official spelling of Trevyn's name is Trevn, since it has five letters. And maybe I'll end up changing the spelling of his name and other characters names to match that. Who knows? It's still early. The series will cover decades of Trevyn's life, so he will get much older in the story. If he lives that long. Mwa ha ha!


Appearance (tags): tall & skinny, dimpled smile, long neck, wrinkled clothing, often seen running and yelling out, “Sorry!”

Trevyn is in that awkward adolescent stage where he is growing very fast. He is tall and skinny. He doesn't care for swordplay and is a bit of a weakling. His dimpled smile and long neck came from the pictures of Alfie Enoch, the actor I chose as a template for Trevyn. His clothing is only wrinkled because he often sleeps in it and is too impatient to wait for for his onesent to bring him fresh clothes the next day. And he likes to run everywhere, often to get away from his bodyguards. He likes to use the servant's stairs and hallways so his mother won't see him, and it's here where he often runs people over and yells out, "Sorry!" as he continues on his way.

Famous counterpart(s): a young Indiana Jones (Alfie Enoch)

I like to grasp some famous character or living/historical person to use as another template for each of my characters. This helps me when I start out and I'm trying to get to know them. Trevyn is not Indiana Jones, but he is daring, rebellious, and brave. And since those traits match Indiana Jones, it sometimes helps me to think of that character when I'm planning out scenes. And as I already mentioned, Trevyn looks like Alfie Enoch (who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies). It always helps me to print out a picture of each character so I can look at them when I'm writing.

One-word descriptor: Curious

It helps me to have a one-word descriptor for each of my characters. I learned this from Stephanie when she wrote about it in our Go Teen Writers book. The example Steph used for her main character was: Invisible. The idea with using such a word is that everything your character thinks and does should tie back to that word. And it should be difficult for your character to act in opposition to that word.

Myers Briggs Personality Type

I like the Myers-Briggs personality types. You can read about then in the book Please Understand Me. I started out trying to give every character the actual personality test. That takes WAY TOO LONG. Since then, I've created a single sheet of paper for each of the sixteen types, and that helps me when I'm in the early stages of discovering a character. I have a general idea of what the character is like, and once I find his or her personality type, I can narrow in on specific traits and behaviors that are common to someone with such a personality. I've talked in-depth about Myers Briggs personality types on Go Teen Writers before. If you want to read that post to learn about the different types, click here.

Once I know my character's personality type, I like to visit www.celebritytypes.com to see what famous people had that same personality. The quotes also help me sometimes in finding my character's voice. They certainly did with Mason in Captives. Mason is a rare personality type and one that is opposite to my way of thinking. So in writing Mason, I not only used quotes by other INTJs, I searched INTJ forums to learn how they spoke. It was pretty fun. If you want to learn more about using celebrity types and forums, click here to read the Go Teen Writers post on that topic.

Trevyn: INFP
The Healer/Dreamer
Celebrity personality match: J. R. R. Tolkien

The 5 Love Languages

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a nonfiction book first published for married couples. I always like to know my character's love language. They are:

-Words of affirmation
-Quality time
-Gifts
-Acts of service
-Physical touch

Trevyn is mostly a quality time guy, since he feels like people only want to know him to take advantage of his political connections. So when he finds a true friend, he wants to hang out with them. He also likes to give gifts of things he made.

To learn more about the 5 Love Languages, read my original Go Teen Writers post on the topic by clicking here.

That's it for today. Next week we'll learn about character tags and titles. Any questions?

25 comments:

  1. Thank you so much! I hadn't even finished reading the post before i printed of the sheet :P It will probably come in handy! You know you're an awesome writer if one of your characters is personality matches J.R.R. Tolkien. :) and "The series will cover decades of Trevyn's life, so he will get much older in the story. If he lives that long." Haha! :)

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    1. You're welcome! Yes, Trevyn has quite the imagination. :-)

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  2. What is Mason's rare personality? He seemed normal.

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    1. INTJ- The mastermind. :-) They are very logical thinkers--they act on logic, not emotion. For extreme examples think of Mr. Spock or Sheldon Cooper.

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  3. Do you have a picture you used for Achan when you were writing By Darkness Hid?

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    1. Yes, I used this picture of Orlando Bloom: http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/41086000/jpg/_41086447_kingdom1_203pa.jpg

      And this picture of Stephen Strait: http://content7.flixster.com/question/38/67/50/3867501_std.jpg

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  4. Thank you Jill so so much! This will definitely come in handy (: I have a hard time starting to write if I don't know my main character pretty well so do you have any suggestions on how to flesh her out more before I start writing (but something that won't take too long)?

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    1. Fill out the character worksheet. That's what I do. It doesn't take terribly long, and it helps me. I've only walked you through part of it so far, but if you do the stuff in this post and you come up with a backstory that explains why they are the way they are, that should help you out a lot.

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  5. I'm a female INTJ and I love using the Myers-Brigg test for Characters. It's so useful, and fun!

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    1. Me too, Morsarren. Nice to meet an INTJ girl! I know several INTJ boys, but no girls. :-)

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  6. I'm not a teen, but I love this website. :-) Great article, Jill!

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    1. Hi, Cheryl! *waves* Thanks so much. :-)

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  7. Thanks for the post and worksheet! I'm sure it will be fun to fill out the worksheet. :)

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    1. You're welcome. I hope it's helpful. :-)

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  8. Cool beans! I loved Myers-Briggs for a while, but lately I've kinda looked at it skeptically and/or thrown up my hands and announced to the room, "NO ONE FITS IN A BOX!" and use that as an excuse. LOL But I'm an ENFP. INFPs are awesome. ;)

    "Kinsman Chronicles" has a nice ring to it, but the name Evenroot was cool! :)

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    1. You're right that no one fits in a box. With all writing advice, you have to filter it. Find what works for you and do that. But never force yourself to do things that hold you back. We are all different, and that's a good thing.

      Thanks! Evenroot is still the name of the magical plant. And, who knows? The publisher might change the name of these new books anyway.

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  9. My characters often center themselves around one emotion: anger, love etc.

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    1. That's a clever way to go about it, pgacn!

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  10. Do you have an example character sheet that you've filled out? Thanks for posting this, it will be really helpful to me :D

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  11. Thank You! This will really help me with my story!

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  12. Thanks for the helpful layout. I love planning characters.

    Btw this looks like it's going to be an amazing book. Excited to read it.

    Also omg I am obsessed with Alfie (he literally is my fave character in How to Get Away With Murder)

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  13. I can't tell if I'm upset at the character chart or not. I filled it out for my newest story's MC and suddenly I have an extra character I have to get to know.

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