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Character Sketching 101

posted Oct 15, 2017, 7:07 PM by Ben Kreucher   [ updated Oct 15, 2017, 7:24 PM ]
Character sketches are a great way to get to know a character you're writing about. From the protagonist to the antagonist, from the love interest to the comedic relief, some people would advise writers to sketch out all their characters, major and minor. But how?

There are a plethora of forms online to find and fill out.

Personally, I don't really do them. I like to let the characters blossom on the page as I write them. I suppose that makes me a pantser in that regard (I also don't really outline. Just briefly or as I go to keep track of events). But plotting has its place too, don't get me wrong. Knowing how a story will develop is just as crucial as understanding how a character will react in a given situation. After all, if you're putting them in trouble, you should know how they'll get out...or at least how they'd act under stress, under pressure, when things are going smooth, and when they're bored.

Sometimes, you can even take inspiration from the people in your own life. Perhaps take a deep, long look at one person and write what you see. It takes an authenticity of friendship, bravery to really delve into a person, and time invested, but it won't be a waste. Or, you could mash two or three or more friends together to create a composite character that expresses the best and worst of some of them. Either approach is good. One just makes a better birthday present. I think everyone likes to been seen, not just noticed.

People are more than hair color, skin color, eye color, height, weight, age, and gender.

You never really know what you know or don't know about a person or a character until you write it down. Just let it flow out. Give yourself free rein. Write as if no one will ever see it.

For example:
A quiet sadness lingers just below the surface, yet it's tempered by grit: a determination to do better to be stronger than the day before. That's not masquerading as false bravado; that's the only kind of strength we're ever given. Yet, not many people realize it. There's laughter in her smile and it dances in her eyes. There's a joy bubbling deep that longs to burst forth yet remains contained and controlled for the proper moments. A prim and proper lady to her core, she has impeccable manners. Soft-spoken, but not a doormat. Calm and even tempered, but a fierce friend and defender of her children. She has an understanding of worry and what a mother can bring from her own experiences and her own mother. She longs to love someone and the waiting frustrates her, but she doesn't want to just dive into anything or anyone. It's not that circumstances need to be perfectly aligned before she moves, rather, she knows her worth and isn't willing to settle for anything less than spectacular. Smart and kind, she isn't into a lot of nerdy things but she's quick to laugh, quicker to compliment, and rarely sarcastic. 

Is that a character you'd like to meet? Can you see a story forming around her? Do you know how she'd react if she fell into a pit of snakes? What if someone threw her into one? What else do you need or want to know before starting? Can you guess her favorite holiday?
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