Monday, August 22, 2011

Character Charts and Journals

Oh man, I'm having a good time editing.

Early in the year, I blogged about making character charts. (Twice, actually, because I added to mine.)

Now that I'd edited the big stuff in my manuscript, it was time for me to review my character chart. But it's enormous, so I decided to print it out and put my bulletin board to use. I know my Nana thought it was super weird when she saw "4ft x 6ft roll of cork" on my Christmas list, but check out this beauty:

That is my monstrous character chart. Which, as you can maybe tell, still has a decent amount of blanks in it.

Which is when I decided I needed to write character journals. I picked 5 characters - the guy who becomes my MCs boyfriend, my MCs best friend, and then 3 antagonists. I asked each of them "what is one word that describes you?" Some of the answers kind of surprised me (which, yes, I know is weird. I wouldn't say that to non-writers.) Like one of my antagonists described himself as being a self-made man. Well, no wonder he's ticked having to work for my MC, who's received everything she has because of her parents.

Character journals are a wonderful way to explore the heads of your secondary characters. Sometimes the answers to my questions pop out so fast they surprise me. Other times, I'll write a sentence like, "I'd always been interested in cooking, but my interest really piqued when-" and then I sit there and mull this over for a bit, wondering what story lies behind his interest in cooking.

The process of character journals helps me think through things I might not otherwise. Sometimes new plot twists arise, but more often my plots are clarified. Like I already knew my antagonist didn't like working for MC, but I hadn't taken the time to think through what his story was and why the two of them were clashing so much.

I never know what to do with my character journals when I'm through. For now, I've just tacked them up on my board, above the character chart, in case I need to reference them later:

Don't forget today's the due date for your writing prompts. On Wednesday we're going to talk some more about publishing and what publishers are looking for. Any other publishing questions you want me to get on the schedule?


  1. I have a question, not sure how to phrase it though.
    Have you noticed that most books are in a series now? So do publishers specifically look for that, especially in new writers? And if so, is it wise to think in terms of series when we develop ideas? Or just focus on our book we're doing & deal with series stuff later?

  2. Great post! I'm looking forward to jumping into doing character journals (still remember how helpful your article on NextGen was) after the adventure of beginning a new semester winds down some. :)

  3. I sent you my writing prompt entry on Saturday night and I never got a reply. I'll send it again and hopefully you'll get it this time. :)


  4. Good post! I love doing character charts because it makes my characters more unique and defined that way. My problem is right now my charts are getting a little scatterbrained and disorganized.
    My question is when you do your charts, do you ask each of your characters the same specific questions? Or do you just pretend you are the character and start writing whatever?
    Thanks! :)

  5. Tonya, yes series certainly seem to dominate these days! Or maybe they always have, and I just wasn't paying attention growing up. I think you do what feels best for the book. Some writers can't seem to write stand-alones. Like my friend Roseanna is constantly thinking of spin-off ideas. But my writing leans toward stand-alones. That's what Me, Just Different was until my agent was like, "Can you come up with some series ideas?" I don't think there's a right or a wrong on this one. Just depends on you.

    Okay, unless you're a debut author and you're knocking on publishers' doors with an 8 book series. That's overwhelming for a debut. I would limit yourself to 3 or 4 books as a new author.

  6. Sorry about that, Abbie! I received it the first time, but due to a combination of having a friend stay with us for a few days and reading absorbing novel, email got pushed out of my schedule :) Thanks for following up!

  7. Oh, Clare, mine are too! Especially because, for whatever reason, my characters names were constantly changing as I wrote this book. One girl went from being Brandi to Amanda back to Brandi, and then in the character journal process I started calling her Amy. Which means she's called by 3 different names in my character charts because I'm too lazy to change it all.

    A little bit of both, in answer to your question. The goal is just to get inside their heads and unearth whatever you can, so whatever gets them talking the fastest is good!

  8. Gee, your friend Roseanna has, like two stand-alones in her list of 20 completed MSS! ;-)

    As for the series question, one prominent editor says they give 3-book contracts--that's that. BUT, those books don't have to be in a series, just so long as they know they're getting three from you. =) And an editor I spoke with last week said her house is launching a series of stand alones soon. So it's still out there. Oddly, though I think in terms of trilogies most of the time, all three of my books are sequel-less right now, LOL.

    I think the series-tendency is partially because readers like to keep reading what they like, and editors need to know you're not going to be a one-hit-wonder. Or so I'm told by those in the know.

  9. Eek. I'm in awe of your bulletin board. Go Nana!

    I really love the idea of character journals. It seems like you'd get much deeper than interview questions, though I'd like to try both. Happy editing!

  10. And there's no reason why you can't do both or do a combination (character journals for a few characters who you're having a tough time, interviews for other major players.) Whatever works for you and the story!

  11. Probably wise to focus on doing my best on my WIP than wondering if publishers like series better & if mine could be a series!

    Could you write about interviewing your characters? I'm not sure I fully get that one

  12. Tonya, I don't interview my characters so I don't know how much help I can be. But lots of wonderful, successful writers have forms they fill out for their major characters with things like

    Hair color/Eye color
    Health history

    Along with deeper questions like favorite memory, best birthday present received, dream job, and so forth.

  13. How long would you recommend kind of creating your characters and getting the details into the important ones before you actually start writing?

  14. what about short stories that are not so short. :)

  15. Oh no oh no oh no -- did I miss the writing prompt deadline?!

  16. Oh yes I did. By like a whole day aha. Oh well.. next time.

  17. Jazmine, I maybe spend a couple hours or so on character stuff before I start writing (or sometimes after I've written a couple chapters and have a better feel for who all the characters will be.) I spend the majority of my time deepening characters after I write the first draft. Not sure why that works best for me, but it does.

    Princess, what do you mean?

    Emii, that seems to be the story of my life these days. "Oh, that bill was due last week?!?!"

  18. Due to the picture of your office, I'm beginning to think that I need my own writing office. Hmm... let's see if I can convince my parents. :)

    The character journal idea is great! I've never tried that before but perhaps I will in the near future.

  19. Ellyn, open with, "If you guys really loved me..." I find that's always popular with parents :) Just kidding.