Cracking Knuckles When Nervous Part 2 Creating a Character Chart

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Last post I shared a basic list to help you keep facts about your characters straight before you write your story. If you missed that post here the link.

Today, I’m going to add more layers to that list to create a deeper POV understanding of those same characters.

What gestures and mannerism might they have?  Creating gestures ahead of time eliminates the possibility of every character sighing,or running their fingers through their hair when things are stressful. It sets them apart unless they are siblings, and that can be a fun observation as you create your characters.

 All the Mulligan brothers had the same habit of cracking their knuckles when they were nervous.

How much education does he have, and where did he get it?

An Ivy League education puts him a cut above a community college. This can affect how they talk and their expectations of life.

What kind of occupation or income does your character have?

This can aid in setting. A successful surgeon probably will have a house with a pool. While his nurse may live in an apartment.

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Does your character have any other skills?

 Play the piano, steeple jumping, CPR are a few examples.

During a date he or she can play piano and woo the other. Or CPR skills can save someone in a crucial scene.

Do they have any hobbies or interests?

 The opera, sports, knitting, crossword puzzles are possibilities. Each of these things creates another layer of their intelligence and passion and are great bits to add to scenes. You can set a scene at a sporting event or a knitting circle.

Pets?

 Four of my books have dogs. Their antics add to scenes and my characters’ responses can move the action along or the emotional level.

Religion?

If you write faith-based books, this is necessary to show why they respond as they do. Or if your characters are from another culture, this gives you a chance to note important things needed to sketch your character’s backstory.

Speech pattern?

 This can be a regional accent or a speech impediment. It can also reflect English as their second language. What kind of vocabulary do they have? Having this in mind when writing dialogue keeps characters from sounding alike.

Personality type?

There are several tests available online you can use. Take the test as your character and you’ll be amazed how much more real they become. Or just write controlling, people-pleasure or introvert to give you a baseline. Are they an angry person? What ticks them off? Do they explode or hold it in?

Does the character have a sense of humor?

In a stressful situation, a comic remark can relieve anxiety. But it doesn’t work if the character has no sense of humor.

Social Status?

 Is your character’s a Lord, a wealthy businessman, a poor laborer or a middle-class blue-collar worker? This question goes along with the character’s political and social views. You might need to research the political or social views of an era if writing a historical.

Friends?

 Who’s their best friend? Who else is in their inner circle? Are they a loner? How do their friends view them? How do they view their friends?

Who is someone your character admires and wants to be like? How does that admiration effect his life?

What is the family dynamic?

Are they close or have a strained relationship? How does their family view your character?

What are they afraid of?

 Does your character have issues from their past that bring out emotional problems?

You could add to your list some pivotal experience in their life.

A father leaving, a sibling’s death that colors their responses to life. Perhaps being accused of cheating or serving time for a crime they did or didn’t commit. Think about what traumas from the past that could shape your character.

Think about what makes them embarrassed.

 Not being dressed appropriately, perhaps. Being in a large group  scares them. Or they are anxious they might say the wrong thing.

What bad habits or weaknesses does your character have?

 Maybe they’re a slob or assume all Irish are bad people. Maybe they are a recovering alcoholic.

What do they want?

 A happily-ever-after? Solve a cold case? Prove their worth?

What do they need?

Money for a mortgage? Find their missing child? A good job?

Defining their ultimate goal helps you craft your story to reach that goal.

Finding a lost child.

What external problems are in the way of meeting that goal?

 Maybe a war is going on around them while they search for a missing child.

What internal problems stand in the way of meeting that goal?

Maybe your character struggles with the fear of not finding this child like she hadn’t found her brother.

Writing the solution to the internal problem before you start your story is a game changer. It might be a  spiritual turmoil like unforgiveness. You decide she needs to truly forgive her partner by the end of the story so they can recapture a loving relationship. Now you just need to get her there.

 Last word

Start with the basic then add any of these other suggestions to help deepen the POV of your character. As a panster it is a challenge to discover half-way through my story that my character hates for example potatoes. Yet he has been eating them all along, and I’ll now need to go back and edit in an earlier comment about his dislike. If I know he is afraid of heights, I’m not surprised when he doesn’t want to leap into the sea from a cliff.

As one who writes their story more organically, asking these questions about my characters before I start helps me understand them better. Will I use all the information I’ve discovered, or will I change it? Probably things will change as the characters tell me who they are as the story evolves. But this exercise saves me gobs of time during the editing and rewrite stage. And that my friend, is worth it to this die-hard pantster.

Helpful Books

I have in my library a collection of Thesauruses by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman. They’re designed to help create realistic characters. You don’t need to read them from front to back. Like any Thesaurus, you look at the entries that interest you.

The Emotional Thesaurus, The Positive Tracts Thesaurus, The Negative Tracts Thesaurus, The Emotional Wounds Thesaurus, Occupational Thesaurus, Rural Setting Thesaurus, Urban Setting Thesaurus. Here is the link to the Amazon page with all their current books.

I recommend checking out their blog Writers Helping Writers. They have several worksheets to help develop characters if you don’t want to create your own.

What kinds of tools do you like to use to flesh out your characters before you start a story?

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