If you have been following my blog for a while, you may have seen my character chart before. I don’t think I’ve ever explained it in depth, though, so I figured Preptober was as good a time as any.
This is my own personalized character chart. Most of the categories here are not my own ideas, but rather things that I’ve picked up from various other sources and cobbled together into a single chart. I wish I could give credit to where I found these ideas, but at the time I was putting this together I didn’t really plan to share it with anyone, so I didn’t worry about keeping track of where I got each idea. Besides, a lot of the things here are actually pretty common in writing circles, so giving credit to a single source would be tough anyway. Also, the layout of the chart is based on the Scrivener character template, so you’ll see some similarities with that.
At any rate, I fill this chart out for my main and major characters. I may do some of this for lesser characters, but I don’t fill the whole thing out for every single character that walks on to the page. Moreover, though I like to fill the majority of this chart out for my major characters, if there’s stuff on here that I just don’t feel I need for that character, I don’t bother with it. I’m not trying to waste my time with this.
So, without further ado, here is my character chart!
Name: This one is obvious, but this is where their full name, plus any nicknames go.
Anthem: This is one of the only things on this chart that I came up with on my own. I’ve told you already that I love using music as inspiration for writing—this is the result of that love. For at least my main characters, I like to pick a single song as their “anthem”. I choose this either because of the words or the general tone of the song. And when I want to get into that character’s head, I play their anthem.
Role in Story: Are they the protagonist? The antagonist? The love interest? That information goes here.
Occupation: Again, obvious. What do they do for a living?
Age: Does it need saying?
Birthday: To be honest, I don’t always pick a birthday for my characters. It’s just not something that I’ve found to be necessary.
Physical Description: I put basic stuff here, hair color, height, etc.
Defining Feature: I wish I could remember where I got this one, but the general idea is that a character should have one physical feature that immediately identifies them. I remember the example was Hermione Granger and her bushy hair. Harry Potter with his scar. These are so defining that if you start a later scene with “A girl with bushy hair…” the audience will immediately know who this is.
Personality: I just jot down anything that seems relevant here. Are they the life of the party? An introvert? A flirt? A workaholic?
Mannerisms/Quirks: Do they bite their lips? Tilt their head in thought? Talk with their hands when nervous? That goes here. I like to think of this as similar to the defining feature above except it’s an action rather than a description.
Why Funny: This one was inspired by the musical episode of Scrubs. I’m not kidding. Dr. Cox listed off why the other characters are funny (Sarcasm? Cocky attitude? Ability to turn a phrase?) and a lightbulb went off in my head. Not every character needs to be funny, especially since I’m not writing comedies, but when they are I like to distil just what their brand of comedy is.
Background: This is where I put all the tidbits I learned during my backstory brainstorming phase.
Goal: What the character wants
Motivation: Why they want it
Internal Conflicts: What (internal) obstacle stands in their way of getting it
External Conflicts: What (external) obstacle stands in their way of getting it
Epiphany: What is going to happen in the story to make the character realize they need/want to change?
Want: This is similar to their goal, but I like to put want and need in a separate place so I can parse out the difference between the two. This is what the character starts out wanting until…
Need: …they realize what they actually needed all along.
Fears: What are they afraid of? Specifically, what are they afraid of as it relates to the story. I mean, if they’re afraid of snakes, that’s all well and good, but I don’t need to put it here unless it affects the story.
Strengths: Strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities is a thing that I’ve seen a lot of places in writing advice circles, but the first place I encountered it was through Lani Diane Rich and her podcasts. I would highly recommend them to you. Search for Chipperish Media.
Anyway, strengths are what the character CAN do.
Weaknesses: Weaknesses are what the character CAN’T do.
Vulnerabilities: Vulnerabilities are what can HURT them.
Tragic Flaw: Does the character want nothing more than to be loved, but can’t help but push people away? That’s a tragic flaw. What about the character stops them from getting the one thing they want?
Contradiction: I like this one a lot. Is the character a bad-boy with a heart of gold? A shy girl who has a knack for public speaking? A genius who consistently makes really dumb choices? These are all contradictions. They make the character more interesting. Less caricature, more real. Real people are full of contradictions and so too should characters be.
Shard of Glass: This one I got from Save the Cat Writes a Novel. It’s the thing in the character’s past, usually bad, that effects who they are today and makes them do the things they do. Usually this is what keeps them from reaching their goal.
Start: This is about the character’s arc. Do they start as closed off emotionally then…
End: …they should end open emotionally.
Competent: Competent, Proactive, and Likable are ideas I got from the Writing Excuses podcast. Again, I highly recommend this.
I rate these categories out of 5. If a character scores 5 on all 3 measures—they’re probably too perfect. A Mary Sue scores all 5s. On the other hand, if they score 1 on all three measures, they’re probably boring and unlikeable. There should be balance. If they score a 5 in one category, the other categories should be lower. If they score a 1, the other categories should be higher, etc.
Notes: This is where I put anything that doesn’t fit in another spot on the chart.
Character’s Plot Synopsis: This is a relatively new addition for me. I got this from the Snowflake Method. Basically, it’s a brief synopsis of the plot from that character’s POV. If it’s the main character, this will probably look the same as the overall plot synopsis, but for other characters, it can help illuminate what they’re doing and how they’re feeling over the course of the story.
So there you have it: My character chart! I’ve put a blank version at the bottom so you can see the categories more clearly. If there’s anything here that you want to use in your own planning, feel free. Let me know if anything sparked an idea for you! And if there’s anything you think I should add to my chart, I’d love to hear about that, too!
Thanks for reading!
Role in Story:
Shard of Glass:
Character’s Plot Synopsis: