Category Archives: characters

Character Worksheets: Map Your Way to Complete Characters

Creating well-rounded characters is one of the most fun aspects of story planning. Now, if you’re protesting this statement, I’m going to share with you an easy way to create your characters.

The simplest and easiest way to create good characters is to use character worksheets. On these worksheets, you list a number of questions you’ll need answers to in order to round out your character. Sure, you’ll want to know his or her name, location, age, and appearance, but that doesn’t take you very far.

For example, what is your character’s main vice? What about her main virtue? Political views? Major hangups? Romantic history?

What I like about character sheets is that they help me write a more fully realized story. If I know my character’s nervous tics, for example, then I know what she’s doing with her hands when she’s anxious. If I know her major vice — say, she forgets to watch the speed limit — then I might know she’s had a lot of encounters with cops and may have a bad opinion of them. If I know her movie and book tastes — for example, documentaries and nonfiction — then I might know she’s more of a cerebral type.

Two of my most favorite questions to answer are sun sign and phobias. Now, whether or not you believe in astrology, knowing your character’s sun sign can also help you round out a character. For example, for a character I created name Sadie, I set her birth date on December 10, 1985, making her a Sagittarius. A little Internet research provides some information about Sagittarians: overly expressive, with frequent burnouts, and who like to make a difference in the world. These traits helped me put Sadie together into the politically active, turbulent character she turned out to be.

For another character I created, Levi, I chose apeirophobia as his phobia. Apeirophobia is fear of infinity or living forever. This helped me figure out why Levi, who is naturally spiritual, chose the religion that he did — one with no conscious afterlife existence. This also helped me come up with a backstory for him, as well as an impetus to choose stargazing as his hobby.

For me, putting these character sheets together is a bit like playing God — and quite a lot of fun, although I otherwise would not make a very effective God. The benefit of them is that as you’re writing the story, you have a wealth of material about this character, whom you now know quite well, to draw from in any situation.

And in case you were wondering, Phobia List has a near-complete list of phobias, and Astrology Online has in-depth explanations of the characteristics of each sun sign.

Hi, My Name Is Mary Sue, and I’m Here to Save the Day

As all writers know, we tend to be ungainly, awkward types, generally unpopular at school, probably physically uncoordinated, and often goofy-looking. Though we might avow that we don’t care about such things, deep down we do sometimes wish we could be the belles and beaux of the ball, the toast of our peers. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a sexy writer? Preferably one with killer dance moves and the ability to perform calculus in our heads?

Yeah, we all get that. Unfortunately, for some writers, this wish crosses over from our daydreams to our fiction. The result is the Mary Sue/Marty Sue character.

For females, the Mary Sue character is invariably breathtakingly beautiful. She is a prodigy of some sort, always with a golden touch. She can figure out any problem, usually one the adults can’t think outside the box long enough to solve. She’s a rebel, doing things her own way, and somehow, in the end, her way turns out to have been the best, with everyone agreeing that she was right to blast through all those accumulated, stodgy regulations.

Wesley Crusher, the most well-known Marty Sue of all.The Marty Sue character is similar, but with masculine characteristics. He is the bravest, most dashing character, a rogue, and of course, popular with the ladies. Like Mary Sue, he breaks all the rules, drawing the ire of the Higher-Ups, but once his way turns out to save the day, those superiors begrudgingly admit he’s saved the entire Empire. Hooray!

This type of character is almost always just plain annoying to alert readers. Why? Because it’s pretty obvious that the author is simply writing a fantasy about his or her idealized self and how, in a just world, society would see that author.

It’s also wholly unrealistic. In real life, these people just don’t exist. Even brilliant, talented people have flaws—that hamartia the Greeks were so wise as to give the otherwise favored protagonists of their plays.

Certainly we want our heroes and heroines to be larger than life, but be realistic about it. Readers are just too sophisticated to buy the concept of an incarnate god, especially one that looks suspiciously like James T. Kirk.

So when you’re crafting your epic tale, please, please, don’t Mary or Marty Sue it. Your point in writing your works is not to project how awesome you really would be if the gods were fair. Make your heroes and heroines real people, with real flaws. These are the people readers can actually identify with, because these are the kinds of people we actually are.