1. Starryblu
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    Starryblu Member

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    Character Sheets/Profiles

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Starryblu, Sep 22, 2016.

    I suppose this question has been asked before, but please humor me, since I'm new.

    Does anyone use them? Have you found them useful? Are there any particular ones you've found helpful?

    I've been browsing through a few, and they seem interesting. Some are pretty far out there. (The girth of my character's tail? Really? I would be seriously worried about her if she had one.) I can see where they might be useful though. They give me food for thought. They present me with ideas about my character that I haven't considered. I suppose they could give my character more depth, which I'm sure is a good thing. I'd just been happily writing along, not thinking that she needed to be more of a person, with more feelings and history. Does it really matter what her greatest fear is? What she was doing between the ages of one and three? Maybe so, maybe not. I guess it depends on the story, hmm?

    What are your thoughts?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I tried this for my second novel but it didn't help, and I haven't bothered since.

    Backstory, for me, comes from working backwards from the MC's goal and motivation at the start of the novel. E.g. if her goal is to be accepted by her family, why is this important to her?

    Other details get filled in as I go--like if I have a scene where a character cooks dinner, I decide on the spot what kind of food he likes. Character sheets, in my experience, focus far too much on these insignificant details.
     
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  3. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    This has been my experience with it as well. I much prefer to let my characters grow organically through the story than decide a bunch of things up front and have to write my character to those things throughout. People aren't a list of attributes--they're not defined by personality checklists. They're not always consistent, they don't always make sense, and they're never one thing all the time.

    Using the goal and motivation as a driver for defining the character, I think, is a very strong approach.
     
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  4. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    I use people I've met and gotten to know in real life as the data source for my characters' mannerisms and appearance; sometimes, just sometimes, a lesser-known celebrity. I find it a lot easier to name change and mentally chuck a blonde wig on a person from memory than to invent someone afresh and keep written tabs on their traits. From knowing someone I can write much quicker with them in mind as their behaviour towards certain situations comes to me instinctively. I'd envisage a profile sheet, if it's to have the depth to have them appear genuine, would take an age to compile.

    Caveat 1. with what I do is: I don't push anything I write into my (tangible) social circle, save for a close family member or two.
    Caveat 2. if I lose my marbles when I'm older I'm afraid I may attribute the stories I've written with these folk in mind as being the truth :meh:

    ^ Are you sure she's a she?
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2016
  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is going to be different for every person and every person is going to need different things to feel like you "know" the character. I used the sheets way back in high school when I first started writing (and I took like an eight year break where I wrote nothing so not sure that counts) - and I think they have their place. They can be overkill. Do you NEED to know the girth of the tail? Probably not, but if the tail comes into play at some point, having the handy-dandy reference doesn't hurt.

    I don't use them now because I have my own character design process based on what I need to know for me. In my case (if I'm doing the purest version of my process - which is never) I start by programming in two contradictory character traits (the example I always cite is one character practices Jainism but is obsessed with pop culture - anti-materialist values vs. obsession with material culture). Then I create backstory to extrapolate how those two things can exist in one person, and that colors how they react to things and helps me get to know them. In my case, I'm less likely to know whether the character has a birthmark than people who use the sheets - but I'll have a lot more background data on their family history than any sheet would ever ask for - like for American characters, I make sure I know when the family immigrated, why, and what they did after they got there. Most people don't need that, I do.

    So, if you want to start with the sheets, I think they're a good excercise, but as you get writing, you learn which details help you as an author and which don't. If you need to know whether they have green eyes, great. If you don't know what color their eyes are but know their grandmother's personal story - also great.
     
  6. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't tend to do well with sheets that focus on specific questions to specific situations, I tend to start with a Dungeons&Dragons alignment and a MyersBriggs type (for example, the lead protagonist of my Urban Fantasy WIP is a Lawful Evil ESFP: he's very authoritarian, sociopathic, outgoing, practical, sensitive, and spontaneous) and then filling the blanks with specific details tends to happen more in-the-moment based on this categorization, rather than trying to start with the details and come up with a category around them.

    I mean don't get me wrong, I love the "What Would Your MC Do?" thread where posters here come up with questions like what you see on a character sheet, and I have figured out a lot about my characters from those questions that I wouldn't have realized about them without said questions. I just haven't found a specific character sheet that asks the right kinds of questions that I get the most out of.
     
  7. Starryblu
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    Starryblu Member

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    Thanks to you all, this is really great input that you've given me. I can see that the information isn't necessary, but I can also see where there is some part of it that might be helpful. For example, the question about the character's fears (ha, I'm contradicting myself) could add more to my story. Maybe at some point in the story, she has no option but to deal with the fear, to overcome it. Having kept the notes from the character sheet, it could possibly give me the idea for that part of the story, which I might not have thought of otherwise. Simpson17866, what you said, about the sheets not containing the right kinds of questions makes a lot of sense. I guess a person has to pick and choose what they need. There's where my love of researching comes in! I could spend days looking at character sheets, and finding different aspects for the characters I'm writing about. Ahh, it boggles my mind. (I think I have too many projects going) I'm big into details, so maybe it's something I need, but didn't know I did, until I discovered them. I think that's my OCD peeking out, all my bases being covered, ya know? Maybe I'm trying too hard.
     
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  8. Crybaby
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    Crybaby Contributing Member

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    Me personally, I only use them if I have multiple characters with several traits that I need to keep track of, for my own sanity. Other than that, I don't really bother. My brain (beleive it or not) knows what my MC is all about.

    I filled a sheet out once with all good intention but I can honestly say I forgot about it. :( Their purpose, for me is zero, unless as stated above. :supersmile:
     
  9. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    Some people, like my brother finds them useful. My brother's actually is one that focuses on the character themselves. His has questions like: "How do others view this character?" "How does this character view themselves?"

    I personally don't use them. I don't find them useful. I will write one up for critique boards when I'm submitting multiple chapters so people can catch up. That's about it.

    I find when I use them as a tool for writing, I get carried away with the world building and forget that at some point I probably should sit down and write the story.
     
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  10. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Filling out any kind of questionnaire about characters seems like a complete waste of time to me. It also seems like it could be a form of procrastination. You don't need to know everything about your characters. You just need to know what is important to the story. And I really don't see how you can do that without writing the story. I know a lot of people like to plan and outline, but I think that's different. That has to do with the story. Your character's biggest fear is only important if it's important to the story. I think you can decide that without playing a game of 20 questions with yourself.
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I know everybody works to their own methods, but I agree with what you've said. Character questionnaires always seem like a waste of time to me.

    You don't get to know real people by getting them to fill out a questionnaire. You get to know them by watching them in action and listening to what they say. You don't know all about them 'beforehand.' Why not just chuck your characters into the action, get them having conversations, and see what evolves. Don't be afraid to surprise yourself.

    I discovered quite a few things about my own main character by just writing about him in the story. I discovered that his reaction to feeling pressure from others is to become introverted, defensive and grumpy. He also has the knack of saying just the right thing, when somebody else is struggling to articulate their own feelings. It's as if he actually knows what they are thinking—which he does, in a way. He's one of those empathetic folks who pays close attention to nonverbal clues about other people, because he's not talking all the time himself. He also has a dislike of snakes (due to an incident in his childhood) and loves the notion of flying, and of open spaces.

    If you had asked me when I started writing about this guy, I would not have been able to tell you these things about him. These characteristics came out during the writing process, when the subjects came up during the evolution of the plot. As to whether he prefers a Hershey bar to a Snickers bar ...I haven't a clue. It's not relevant to my story.
     
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  12. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, that's why I try to keep my "character sheets" as quick and general as possible: starting with a few superficial details ("what is your character's favorite pick-up line?"), using it to develop a general picture of the character, and using this general picture to fill in more of the specific details ("what does your character do when her best friend is in danger?") seems like a waste of time when I could just jump to the second step.
     
  13. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    I've filled out character sheets before but ended up not using them. I prefer to have a general idea of my characters and then develop them as I write them.
     
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  14. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually just realized that the Great Course I'm taking, "Writing Great Fiction," talks about both sides of this through the metaphor of acting:

    American actors tend to develop their characters inside-out by trying to focus on the characters' psyche before anything else, but British actors tend to develop characters outside-in by starting with distinct mannerisms. Where an American would ask "What's my motivation," a Brit would say instead "Let the wig do most of the work."

    Apparently I'm one of the more American-style writers here, whereas extensive character sheets would be more British-style?
     
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I did character sheets when I was younger but I found a lot of what was created/filled in never made it into the story. I prefer to work things out as I
    go along. For instance once I filled out details concerning an MC's favorite foods, terrific ... but I only mentioned food a few times in the story and none of his favorites
    worked in any of the scenes. He was often taken out to an expensive restaurant - therefore no sausage pizza could be mentioned. Another time I filled out a mini family tree but it was a thriller and none of the relatives were actually mentioned. Doesn't seem like much of a problem, just a slight waste of time, but for my first few writings I actually tried to bend the scenes to match the information or find a way to cram it in. It made things awkward and the dialogue stilted.
    Now I do a lot of daydreaming. I'd rather have things set in my mind than on paper ..
    I also look to my settings & places to help develop the character. A character from a low income household in East L.A. is going to differ from a child residing in a highrise in Yorkville, Toronto. Another thing I think about is inner goals - what do they want spiritually or emotionally? And exterior goals - what do they physically want?

    Mostly though I let this stuff emerge as I'm writing my scenes.
     
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  16. nataku
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    nataku Member

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    It's sad that my laptop died. I used to have this website that helped me immensely by using both a good character sheet and writing prompts to flesh out my characters. Its link is on the dead laptop sadly. I'll have a go at trying to procure it from there at some point once I find someone who knows how to beat some life into the old bugger.
     
  17. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    The problem with character sheets is that the more you include in it, the more of that information you want to insert into the story somehow. This can often make parts of the story sound forced, clumsy, awkward, contrived, so on.

    Like @jannert said, you learn more about your characters simply by writing them in the story. By spending time with them.
     
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  18. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not necessarily ;) Every SciFi/Fantasy writer in the world is going to tell you that 90% of their world-building isn't going to make it to the page, why shouldn't the same go for characterization?

    I, for example, have no plans to show my readers the scene I imagined where my POV character gets into a big argument with his gang's biggest wild card ally/rival about whether Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger was a better Joker. Nor have I decided yet whether or not to show my POV's best friend getting into an argument with the same ally/rival about whether Sid Meier's Civilization series peaked at III Conquests or IV Vanilla.

    But the way that my POV character defended Jack Nicholson, that his best friend defended Civ III, and that their rival defended Heath Ledger and Civ IV, helped me solidify my understanding of how each character would go about practicing magic and/or committing crimes differently.
     
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  19. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Yes, but you are clearly the exception that proves the rule. :p

    I'm just pointing out that the problem exists. The temptation exists. And an unskilled, undisciplined writer can feel like all that planning needs to go into the story somehow.
     
  20. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    For me, I start with a inspiration point for my character. As I can be quite literal, said inspiration can have a heavy influence on looks, personality, etc. Then I play the question game with myself. The "What if....?" game if I find myself stuck.
     
  21. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I've used them, though don't have any for my current WIP. I think I needed them at first because all of my characters were becoming too similar. After filling out a questionnaire I got a much better grasp of what made up my character, but after doing that exercise I don't know that I ever referred back to it again. Doing the questionnaire simply helped cement certain things about my character including many small nuances I had not considered. I built up from there as I wrote.
     
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  22. PGWhyte
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    PGWhyte Member Supporter

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    I must admit, I wish I did. I'm constantly going back through my book for info on characters. I sat down earlier and compiled a late character sheet, and a future one for my next book. It does save time.
     
  23. Kitk37
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    Kitk37 New Member

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    I have not used character sheets. I have some saved templates, but I will likely customize my own if I ever use them. The same with outlines. It sounds like the character sheets are a good tool for a reference point, but is not a necessity if the writer fleshes out the character while writing the story. That is how I prefer to do it myself.

    With the way things are going for me with writing, I may have to fall back on them.:meh:
     
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  24. jen_writer
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    jen_writer Member

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    I'm glad I read this post. I've never completed a novel- except twice in Nanowrimo - and I'm at the point of planning my next one. I was looking at character worksheets and thought that they weren't creative enough for me. I'm glad I've read this thread as I think I will be more confident to go my own way. I never planned much before so I don't really know how much planning to do and when to start the actual writing I'm afraid of failing again
     
  25. Dnaiel
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    Dnaiel Member

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    The only thing I did at all like this is a sheet with statistics and any other important details I think I'll need but might forget. I haven't looked at it much. I do have a page with chapter summaries on my other screen and a list of character names in italics following each summary. That came in handy when I forgot how some of their names were spelled. It's also useful when I need to go back for other details so I can find them fast enough. But all of those are intentionally kept at a minimal so I don't get off track.
     

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