In a recent blog post, I discussed the importance of Style Sheets. Another form sheet equally important is the character sheet. Even if a story has only a handful of characters, a detailed list will help keep them in line and their hair colour from changing from chapter to chapter.
A character sheet is a life saver if a novel contains many characters or is one in a series. During the first edit of Shadows in the Stone, I created one to save my sanity. The story contains 74 named characters. Some of these individuals were mentioned only two or three times, but it was important to keep their individual stories straight, along with their age and the weapons of their choice.
What to put on a character sheet is up to the writer. Personally, I use the following headings.
The full name of the character is written in the first column along with nicknames, ranks, titles and keys to pronunciation (if it is an unusual name). With regard to nicknames, I add a note about who uses them.
For example, we may know a character as Chris, but his mother might still call him Christopher while his best friend calls him Shortie.
Regarding rank and title, note the changes if any take place. For example, Bronwyn Darrow first appeared in Shadows in the Stone as a private. He then received a promotion to corporal. By the end of the book, he was a sergeant.
I note the page number and chapter the character first appears in the story. This makes them easier to find on paper; a simple search for the name can be used if looking for this person in a computer file. If the person makes only two appearances, I note both.
This doesn’t apply to all my stories, but it does for my fantasy novels. I note if they are human, dwarf, hauflin, elf and so on. Here I also note skin colour. Some dwarfs are darker brown than others, while elves are various shades of green.
Again, this doesn’t always matter, but as a genealogist, it’s important to me when I’m writing fantasy. With the Castle Keepers series, it’s important to know where people are from on the map. Sometimes there is a connect to their role in the plot.
I like to know how old people are…in general. Sometimes I need an exact age; other times I’m writing a story that spans more than a year and I need to know if their age significantly impacts the story. In the Castle Keepers series, twelve years pass. A baby is born in the first chapter and in the last, she is twelve.
Age is more important when the character is young, say younger than sixteen. A three-year-old acts differently than a ten-year-old.
Hair and Eye Colour
If a character is given hair or eye colour, it’s important to keep the same colour throughout the story unless there is a reason provided for the change. A character sheet is an easy, simple way to keep track of all these colours.
This is a wide-open column. Anything of importance goes here. I keep it brief. It might include complicated relationships, milestones in a character’s life (such as their marriage date, or the date they were abandoned at the railway station) or a specific detail relating to the plot.
These columns are suggestions only. They fit my fantasy novels, but not other genres in which I write. Your columns will look different than mine. Ideally, the columns should include very basic information that is needed often when writing, or facts the writer needs to keep in mind.
When I’m writing a story, I’m living in the middle of it, so I remember a lot of details. It’s not necessary for me to record everything.
A solid, informative character sheet is a valuable tool for revisions, self-edits and future books with the same characters. Arming your editor with it and a style sheet allows them to do their job more efficiently.
Have you used character sheets for your stories?