Friday, March 4, 2011

Character Charts

Today's post might not be a boat-floater for all of you. That's cool. I understand that not everyone loves organizing like I do. To me, getting to organize writing stuff... Well, what could be better?

So if you're already rolling your eyes and thinking, "Not interested," let me just say one thing - when you are published, your copy editor will sing your praises if you send them a character chart. They need them to check your continuity.

For my character chart, I use an Excel spreadsheet. I track details about my characters like their birthday, what they look, etc. Because it's hard to remember if Johnny-who's-in-four-scenes-spread-through-out-the-book has dark hair or light, blue eyes or green.

I used to make my character chart after I'd written my book; I didn't want to be slowed down by noting that Anna has brown eyes. But with my current WIP (work-in-progress), my character chart has evolved, and I'm already seeing some serious benefits.

After I finished my first three chapters and got a feel for who the major players are in my book, I created my character chart. Here are the headers I used:

Relationship to MC (main character)
Storyline or role played
Birthday and Age
Motivation and Conflict
Goal and Conflict
Epiphany and/or Need

Now, obviously this would be a lot of info to fill out for every character. But utilizing something like this can help round out your secondary characters and crystallize them in your mind.

It'll be easiest to fill it out for your main character, so let me show you what it looks like with a more minor character.

Name: Auburn McCaffery
Relationship to MC (main character): Best friend's boyfriend
Storyline or role played: Doesn't understand MC's need to create a name for herself. A lot of times he'll give advice that's only going to drive Macy (girlfriend) further away from him.
Description: Light brown hair, hazel eyes, 6'2" and broad, but not thick. Smiles easily, but is still considered serious. Engages in everything seriously - relationships, work, school, soccer.
Birthday and Age: June 23rd, age 17
Motivation and Conflict: To provide a good life for him and Macy and take over the family business/Macy seems to be pulling away
Goal and Conflict: To marry Macy and take over family business/Macy doesn't want to stay in town.
Epiphany and/or Need: Love requires sacrifices
History: Auburn grew up on the vineyard and has always looked forward to owning it. His favorite part is caring for the animals. He was raised by a very logical businessman, a single father, and that's made him a touch oblivious when it comes to the complexities of girls.

You'll notice that for Auburn, that his motivation/conflict and goal/conflict are basically identical. I have two different columns because that's not always the case. Like for Macy, his girlfriend, hers reads:

Motivation and Conflict: Macy wants a life of her own, but doesn't know how to achieve this without hurting everyone she loves.
Goal and Conflict: To attend USC and eventually get a job writing for TV/Scared to strike out on her own.

You may find that you want additional columns on yours. Or that you don't need all of these. That's great - make it your own, and make it work for you. What I loved about doing this before I did any detailed plotting is it helped me think through the plots of my secondary characters and how those could weave through and affect my MC.

Previously when I've made my character charts, it's all after-the-fact, so it's boring. I'm just documenting things for the sake of the editing process. Doing it like this - after I've written the first three chapters, but haven't figured out the rest of the book yet - made it much more fun because I was getting to create.

That's all for today. Don't forget to get your writing prompt's in by next Monday night!


  1. I like the character chart! I learned about writing in depth character bios in a writing class I tool. However one thing they didn't have on the list that you mentioned & I think is a good idea to have is:
    1. Relationship to MC
    2. Storyline
    Great ideas!

    Did you read Sweet Valley High when you were younger? I was thinking about them yesterday & how I miss it. I googles them & there is a new book, Sweet Valley Confidential, coming out that is Jessica & Elizabeth ten years later!!!

  2. Sounds good. I'll give it a go!
    Tonya -- my mum read them, haha. I've picked up a couple of second-hand Sweet Valley Twins over the years, my mum didn't let me read Sweet Valley High ;)

  3. I can see that. Until yesterday I didn't know how old they actually were. SVH began in the early 80s & published till the early 2000s just updated covers to the time.

  4. This is definitely a boat-floating post for me! Thanks for the info! I am absolutely LOVING this series! Thanks so much for all the neat ideas.

  5. Haha thats cool =) Me and my friend are using almost the same format for a book we're writing for character charts.
    (though I admit she made them up I didn't and it didn't even come to mind until she mentioned it haha)

    Great post! =D

    I look forward to the next writing prompt thing!

  6. Tonya, the relationship to the MC column is particularly helpful when I've had to be away from a manuscript for awhile.

    Lol, I never read Sweet Valley High. How fun! I hope the new books are good.

    Rachelle, I'm so glad to hear it!

    Jazmine, cool! I'm still new to the character chart thing, but so far I find it really helpful.

  7. Stefanie, I've tried to email my go teen writers comp entry to you to no avail. Is there any way you can bring back the 'email me' button???

  8. Yes, I can! I'll do that as soon as I get to my computer. The email button links to the contact page on my site. So you can go to, and click on the contact page.

  9. Okay, I added it to the sidebar, or you can follow this link:

  10. I have definitely been having a problem with going back to look at my description of the character.This would totally help, oh I don't know, a lot! :) Sierra ♥

  11. I know this is an old post...But I'm just now really putting it to use :)

    Can you explain "Epiphany and/or need"? I think I understand them independently, but why are they lumped together in one column here?


  12. Jordan, you may need 2 columns, so you'll just have to figure out what works best for you. My primary characters sometimes have both. Like Skylar's epiphany in Me, Just Different is that it's not enough to just behave "good" and "nice." That God has to be involved for the new behaviors to really take hold. Yet she also has a need to be seen and known, yet loved despite what that person sees and knows.

    But sometimes I have characters on the fringe who have an epiphany in the story that impacts my main character, but they might not have a real need that needs to be accomplished. (Or vice versa.) Like in Out with the In Crowd, Connor has the epiphany that he really does have something that attracts him to "broken" girls. But there's not really a need of his that needs to be dealt with during the story.

    Does that make sense?

  13. Thanks for the idea.
    I feel more confident when there is a nice clean to-do list, so I was wondering if you have it all organized and in a neat pile of ordered posts somewhere. Thanks