1. Jeffrey

    Jeffrey New Member

    Apr 2, 2016
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    Writing a character outline

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Jeffrey, Apr 2, 2016.

    I have an idea about a story of a band of travelers.
    I want to write an outline for the characters first and I have an idea for the template, but I think I can refine it more.

    I'm writing this stuff in my journal. Each character outline will take up two pages.

    Here is my template

    (The use of this term will vary from story to story. Sometimes it means different species like elf, human, dwarf etc. Or it can mean African, European, Asian etc. In my story the characters will be human but have fictional races.)
    Personality traits:
    (The main characters will be apart of a band of travelers and all of them have assigned combat and management roles.)
    Origin: (Their country, tribe, kingdom, and/or organization that they come from as well as the geographical region.)
    Complimenting characters: (Characters they get along with best)
    Opposing characters: (Characters they don't get along with)
    Biography: (1 page long background story of the character)

    If anyone has an idea of what to add to my template, feel free to give your input.
    Seraph751 likes this.
  2. Seraph751

    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole... Contributor

    Mar 18, 2016
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    Favorite Places:
    Why he/she enjoys traveling:
    Reason for joining with the Travelers:
    Special Skills/Area of knowledge
    (why does he/she bring to the table):
    Preferred Mode of Traveling (i.e. horseback caravan, motorcycle, etc):
    Top 10 Things that he/she must have when traveling: Weapon? Transportation? Passport thingy? Medicine? Books?
  3. Jeffrey

    Jeffrey New Member

    Apr 2, 2016
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    That is good, I'll add that.
    Seraph751 likes this.
  4. Roberta Parsnip

    Roberta Parsnip New Member

    Jun 23, 2015
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    I don't do templates, but my brother does. He sometimes put an actor or actress who could portray them. Not because he's going to necessarily tell his readers who that is, but it kind of gives them a voice.
  5. George Mason

    George Mason New Member

    Apr 3, 2016
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    I think those categories are good. I have been collecting characters for years and writing them down on scrap paper or whatever was near by. After losing them everywhere i started to keep a journal of all my characters and now I just started using a character journal i found on amazon that works but its basic, not all the categories you have.
    Seraph751 likes this.
  6. Ziggy.

    Ziggy. Active Member

    May 20, 2012
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    Shut up, baby. I know it.
    I'm not a fan of templates at all. I feel like I get bogged down trying to figure out what colour toothbrush my protagonist likes and then I realize I couldn't give a flying fuck whether or not he ever brushes his teeth again. When it comes to creating a character outline for me I tend to stick to a simple sort of note-system.

    I'll jot down their name, age, few notes on appearance--backstory notes (if applicable) and where I generally want their arc to go and finally their personality and a few tidbits that will stay or go. Besides that I like to do the Goal, Motivation, and Conflict setup:

    X wants Y because of Z but A is in the way. Just little things like this. Eventually my notes sort of solidify into more coherent notes and from there I envision my characters and take the story from there. I like to give myself breathing room to change things occasionally but normally my first set of notes is rarely altered.
    BayView likes this.
  7. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    MyersBriggs type and D&D Alignment tend to be the only character aspects that I template specifically, everything else is more freeform.

    I/E: do you prefer to keep to yourself (Introvert) or to get involved with lots of other people (Extravert)

    N/S: to you prefer abstract concepts (iNtuitor) or practical application (Sensor)

    T/F: are you more matter-of-fact (Thinker) or sensitive to others (Feeler)

    P/J: are you more disorganized (Perceiver) or organized (Judger)
    L/C: do you love the idea of rules (Lawful), hate the idea of rules (Chaotic), or not care strongly one way or the other (Neutral)

    G/E: do you help everybody else at great cost to yourself self (Good), do you help yourself at great cost to some other people (Evil), or do you try to get by without greatly costing anybody anything (Neutral)

    I myself am a Chaotic Neutral INTP (72% Chaotic, 65% Good, 88% Introverted, 87% iNtuitive, 64% Thinking, 82% Perceiving): I care about people in general, but in my personal life I tend to keep to myself, live in my own little world, and don't tend to like being told what to do.

    Whereas the lead protagonists of my Doctor Who fan-fiction are:

    Lawful Good ESFJ: Kyra Sylvan is the most rules-oriented person in the story and the most people-oriented, wanting the best for everybody around her but also taking it very personally when she feels that they're not doing something the right way.

    Lawful Good ENTP: Damien Mitchell is extremely authoritarian about what he's supposed to do to help people, but he is also very disorganized about how he feels most comfortable doing it, so he feels that it's his obligation to find a life where he can be disorganized in the most effective possible way instead of wasting energy forcing himself to be more organized.

    Chaotic Evil ENFJ: June Harper's daily life is tightly scheduled the way that she wants to schedule her days, but she doesn't want her friends to feel obligated to schedule their own lives the same way that she does. She's technically in charge because her friends always follow her lead whenever a crisis comes up, but she still wants them to be involved in coming up with the solution rather of her dictating it to them. She is also a bloodthirsty serial killer (with super-powers).​

    The later two of whom are surprisingly good friends, despite not always seeing eye to eye on things like whether Bad Guys can be tortured to death for threatening the innocent people that the two of them are trying to protect.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2016
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    I am opposed to any and all character questionnaires, templates, forms, etc., etc., etc. I'm just saying that, in case there are people who think they're mandatory.
    GuardianWynn likes this.
  9. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    You're right that they're not mandatory and that a lot of great writers have written a lot of great characters without them, but as a fan of some templates but not others, I personally would say that I am opposed to treating any and all character questionnaires, templates, forms, etc., etc., etc. as being prescriptive instead of descriptive.

    The two templates that I use (MyersBriggs + Alignment) have been a fantastic way for me to look at several possible descriptions so that I can decide how I think a particular character would work best.
    Callista Reina likes this.
  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    For most things in life, I agree that one's personal practices are a matter of opinion, and what works for me and what works for someone else are likely to diverge wildly, and we'll both be right, for ourselves.

    For some things, like the direction that the toilet paper unrolls, the badness of using templates for characters, and the badness of cooking steaks to well-done, I maintain the persistent belief that I'm right and everyone else will eventually come around to my way of thinking.

    I suspect that everyone has a few of those things.
  11. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    How very Lawful of you :D

    EDIT: Now that I think about it @ChickenFreak would you be interested in reading my Doctor Who story to see if the templates got in the way of the characterization?
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2016
  12. Kayla Hicks

    Kayla Hicks New Member

    Apr 10, 2016
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    I think that what you have so far is good. I would also add special skills, likes and dislikes which could also fall under personality traits
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  13. IHaveNoName

    IHaveNoName Senior Member Community Volunteer

    Mar 15, 2016
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    Why do you think that way? I've never had a whole lot of experience with discussions about "templates vs. no templates", so I'm curious to hear the pros and cons.

    I've been writing out short summaries for my races/cultures, and I find it very helpful - not only can I get all this crap out of my head and organized, but I can fill in things that I didn't know I'd missed, it helps when I need to reference something, and I've already come up with new ideas that could take the story in interesting directions. I'm going to try it with my characters and see what happens.
  14. JennaPeterson88

    JennaPeterson88 Member

    Nov 7, 2011
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    Newfoundland, Canada
    I don't always do character templates, but sometimes it really does help me "get to know" my characters. My template is modified from one I found online years ago. It looks something like this:

    Basic Information
    Full Name
    Preferred Name
    Also Acceptable
    Name Notes

    Date of Birth
    Place of Birth
    Biological Mother
    Biological Father
    Biological Siblings
    Other Family

    Physical Description
    Sex & Gender Identity
    Sexual Orientation
    Age @ Beginning
    Apparent Age
    Eye Colour & Glasses
    Natural Hair Colour
    Apparent Hair Colour
    Hair Type
    Hair Length & Style/Lack thereofof
    Body Type / Build
    Skin Tone
    Skin Type
    Face Shape
    Birth Marks
    Most Prominent Feature
    Resembles Anyone
    Speech Notes

    General Health (Phys)
    General Health (Psych)
    Physical Talents
    Common Gestures

    Type of Music
    Musician / Singer / Group
    Drink (Non-Alcoholic)
    Alcoholic Beverage
    Literature Genre
    Curse Words
    Movie Type
    TV Series
    Mode of Transportation

    Smokes (give details)
    Drinks (give details)
    Uses Illegal Drugs (details)
    Worst Habit
    Wants to change / stop

    Type of Childhood
    First Memory
    Most Important Childhood Event (and why)
    Level of Education
    Schools Attended
    Degrees Earned
    Best School Subject
    Worst School Subject
    Good student?
    Book-smart vs. street
    Religion / Views

    Sexual Experience

    Relationship with
    Relationship with
    Alternate Guardians
    Relationship With
    Legal Status
    Refers to Them As
    Oldest / Middle / Youngest
    Relationship with
    Nieces & Nephews
    Maternal Grandparents
    Paternal Grandparents
    Aunts & Uncles

    Difference in Age
    Relationship With
    Met When / How
    The Proposal
    The Wedding
    Remembers it?
    Favourite Thing About
    Biggest Pet Peeve About

    How Many Now
    How Many Wants
    All with current spouse?
    Details on above
    Names & Ages
    Favourite Child
    Least Favourite Child
    Relationship with kids
    Is this important?
    How he/she relates to kids

    Works for
    Works as
    Relationship with boss
    Thoughts about job
    Years at current job
    Relationship w/ coworkers
    Dream job
    Significant Past Jobs

    Attitude & Personality
    Greatest Fear
    Worst that could happen
    His/Her Achilles Heel
    Most at ease when
    Most restless when
    Feels about self
    Most embarrassing moment
    One Wish, why?
    Cautious or Dare Devil?
    Same when alone?
    Biggest Regret
    Biggest Success
    Minor Successes
    Darkest Secret
    Does anyone know
    Told or found out?
    If found out, how?
    Strongest Trait
    Weakest Trait
    Soft Spot
    Is it Obvious?
    How is it hidden?
    Biggest Vulnerability?
    1 of 7 Deadly Sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride)
    1 of 7 Virtues (chastity, abstinence, liberality, diligence, patience, kindness, humility)
    Optimist or Pessimist?
    Introvert or Extrovert?
    Very Skilled At
    Not Very Skilled At
    Character Strengths
    Character Flaws

    Describe Self in 1 Word
    Describe Self in a paragraph
    Best physical feature (opinion)
    Worst physical feature (opinion)
    Are these realistic?
    If no, why?
    How does he/she think others perceive him/her?
    Four things would change about self, in order

    Inter-Character Relationships
    Divorced? Why? When?
    Ever cheated?
    Generally, how does he/she relate to others?
    Perceived by strangers
    Perceived by friends
    Perceived by spouse
    Perceived by children
    Perceived by coworkers
    Perceived by protagonist
    Perceived by antagonist
    Perceived by other
    Usual first impression
    Impact of this
    Friends/family most like about him/her
    Friends/family least like about him/her
    Best Friend

    Long Term
    How will it affect him/her?
    Affect others?

    Problems / Crisis
    Reaction to crisis
    How does he/she face problems?
    Kinds of problems usually encountered
    How does he/she react to new problems?
    How does he/she react to change?

    Usual Jewelry / Accessories
    Physical Aids
    Typical Casual Wear
    Typical Work Wear
    Typical Semi Formal
    Typical Formal Wear
    Typical Sleep Wear
    Typical Swim Wear
    Typical Athletic Wear
    Lives with
    Where does he/she want to live?
    Frugal? Impulsive? Etc.
    Does too much...
    Does too little...
    Most prized possession
    Plays instruments
    Wants to learn to play
    Likely to do so?
    Likes animals?
    Listens to music when...

    Good with technology?
    Owns a computer?
    Feelings about tech?
    Email address
    Screen name(s)
    Significance of
    Uses computer for...
    Plays video games?
    Consoles / Platforms?
    Best At
    Favourite Websites

    Secretly Admires...
    Most influenced by...
    Most important person in his/her life? Why?
  15. JD Anders

    JD Anders Member

    Mar 5, 2016
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    My "template" begins and ends with a bio and a physical description or depiction. Sometimes I mention little quirks of each character in the backstory, but most of the time I like to let details develop organically.
  16. JennaPeterson88

    JennaPeterson88 Member

    Nov 7, 2011
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    Newfoundland, Canada
    I should mention I usually don't end up completely filling out the outline I posted above. I just let each item make me think about the character, and jot down notes as relevant things come to me. Basic Information, Physical Description & Favourites gets the most attention. The first two are obviously vital information. The third is just plain fun and reveals more about the character than you might sometimes think.
  17. Callista Reina

    Callista Reina Member

    Mar 29, 2016
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    Wow, JennaPeterson88, that is an extensive template! I think that is a great way to start thinking about your characters, even if you don't answer everything. For some characters, I would assume that not every category is relevant anyway.

    I have always seen templates as changeable. Even if I use one, I don't view the information I put in it as set in stone. I figure it's just a starting point for thinking about character, but if something I put in the template doesn't work well when I'm writing, I change it. I am curious about other people's opinions on this. Do you generally stick to the information you put in the template, or do you change it as you go along? And if you change it, then is there a point in using one to begin with, or is it still helpful as a brainstorming tool? Thoughts?
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  18. JennaPeterson88

    JennaPeterson88 Member

    Nov 7, 2011
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    Newfoundland, Canada
    A little of both, I'd say. Sometimes I refer back to my template because I can't remember a detail I'd decided about the character (like birth date or how many siblings they had), and I originally decided on those facts for a reason. Other times, as I write the story, I discover I was completely wrong about something in the character profile, so I change it.
    Callista Reina likes this.
  19. pyroglyphian

    pyroglyphian Word Painter

    Sep 13, 2015
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    I'd add 'subconscious motivation', or words to that effect. What is actually making them tick.

    From determining this you could peer further into how well the character knows herself; to what extent she understands the effect of this hidden hand on her behaviour.
  20. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    For as long as I've used my favorite templates (MyersBriggs+Alignment), I've always believed - and I'm sure @ChickenFreak will disagree with me - that:

    If editing an outline for your plot and/or characters when you get a better idea means that you shouldn't have written down your first idea, then doesn't that mean that the text pre-edit shouldn't have been written for the same reason? And if you refuse to edit your outline because you have "set in stone" that your plot and/or characters are going to be a certain way, then shouldn't you refuse to edit your text for the same reason ;)

    When I originally came up with Doctor Who fanfic-protagonist Captain June Harper, I originally envisioned her MyersBriggs type as being EN-J (preference for lots of interaction rather than little, preference for abstract ideas over tangible details, no preference for relationship-focus versus task-focus, preference for making decisions over constantly waiting for more information) and I originally envisioned her Alignment as being Chaotic Good (hates people telling each other what to do, loves taking care of people).

    When I learned more about MyersBriggs, I realized that "F = care about people but not work / T = care about work but not people" was completely false, June could very well be an ENTJ who cares about people or an ENFJ who cares about getting the job done, OR she could still be an EN-J who balances the two (despite my not balancing the same two things that I originally thought I was balancing). I ultimately felt that she worked best as an ENFJ, and I edited my template to reflect this. Just like I would with the text itself ;)

    Most importantly, I realized towards the end of Chapter 3 that June would make an absolutely fantastic vigilante serial killer :D Question of the hour: did I reject my new Chaotic Evil idea because I'd originally written Chaotic Good in the template (and the text of my earlier chapters), or did I edit my template (and my text) to reflect that my Chaotic Evil version of the character had become far more interesting than my original Chaotic Good version? Spoiler alert: I edited :cool: As every good writer should.

    Captain June Harper is now a Chaotic Evil ENFJ.

    There were some other changes to my same templates along the way (realizing that my Chaotic Good ISF- was actually a Chaotic Good ISFP, realizing that my Lawful Good -NTP was actually a Lawful Good ENTP), but finding out that my so-called "lead hero" had actually been a villain the whole time would have to be the biggest one :p (finding out that it didn't make sense for her not to have superpowers was also on the list of changes: hero -> villain -> supervillain)

    Would any sci-fi fans here like to read my story to see whether I made my characters as 3-dimensional as I wanted versus whether my use of templates got in the way?
    Callista Reina likes this.
  21. JennaPeterson88

    JennaPeterson88 Member

    Nov 7, 2011
    Likes Received:
    Newfoundland, Canada
    We had to do MyersBriggs profiles when I was studying engineering. I'm laughing so hard right now, because according to that particular run-through (it didn't seem long enough?), I'm ENFJ.
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  22. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    Though I'm assuming you're True Neutral instead of Chaotic Evil? ;)
  23. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

    Dec 31, 2015
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    I'd go the opposite way and leave out anything that's not just a self-evident fact. Blonde hair, blue eyes, sister lives in Bournemouth is stuff that's helpful just because it stops you have to go find out if/what you wrote earlier. That's what this kind of thing is good for; things that are uncontroversial that you can decide on a whim one time and refer back to just for continuity. It's not stuff that matters, it's just a note to say 'Hey we've talked about this before'.

    I think anything that's to do with motivation and deeper feelings you should resist the inclination to summarize in a few words. Assuming that such a thing actually matters (which it won't for side characters) then it's something that needs space to breathe and more importantly it's something that you shouldn't get into the habit of just kinda jotting down. You'll be served here by complexity not by simplicity. Even if it stems from something simple, getting down to that is something more complex with layers on top.

    I think that that's the problem with all of this kind of exercise; it encourages you to set things in stone and boil them down to the most basic form. Some things are simple, and for that it's fine. But for complex stuff the worst thing you can do is decide it all before you're written the character much and encourages you to stick with stuff even when it transpires it doesn't really play together the way you want. I think holding on to that ambiguity as a writer is important.

    Exploring as you go and joining up the dots in an organic way as you go makes for much better characters who feel like people, not lists of attributes.
  24. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    Summing up a character 100% in just a few words isn't going to create an interesting character, but that doesn't mean that summing up 90% of a character in a few paragraphs is just as bad.

    Why would you care about any characters if you couldn't describe what it is about the characters that makes you care about them? If you can't describe them, then couldn't they be replaced in the narrative by other characters without anybody noticing any differences in what happens? I've always believed that characters who are indescribable are just as undeveloped as characters who are too describable.
  25. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    I'd be interested in reading it, but I wouldn't be able to judge whether the templates got in the way, because I can't wipe your memory and make you write it again without the templates. :)

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