Two-dimensional tools for three-dimensional characters

I’m still in pre-writing for my next project. I’m focusing on characters at the moment, and I’m struggling. I’ve felt for some time now that characterization is one of my weak-points, and I’d really like to fix that, so I’m trying to do a much deeper dive into my characters.

I’ve done the easy part–and for me the most fun–of finding a picture I feel best represents each major character. I’m a face collector. Not in some Michaelbrent Collings sort of way, mind you. I just like to poke around online and whenever I come across an interesting picture I save it to my “morgue”. Then when I need to create a character I’ll browse through my pictures and find one I think most fits what I have in mind. But as I said, that’s the easy part. I still need to define who they are, what they’re like, how they act, etc.

Previously I’ve been using the character profile template that came with my copy of Scrivener. This time around I’ve come to the conclusion that the template doesn’t go deep enough. It’s too simplistic–it doesn’t give me enough prompts to really feel like I’m understanding my character. So I did what anyone does these days and did a quick search online for character templates. Here is a sampling of some of what’s out there:

Epiguide.com – Link to template

This one seems like overkill to me. There looks to be over a hundred fields you could fill out. In their defense, they offer this disclaimer:

IMPORTANT: Note that all fields are optional and should be used simply as a guide; character charts should inspire you to think about your character in new ways, rather than constrain your writing. Fill in only as much info as you choose. Have fun getting to know your character!

I can see this for your main characters perhaps, especially if you have no real feel for who they are at all. But doing this for characters who show up for at most a couple of scenes would be a waste of time, I think.

Eclectics.comLink to template

This, too, seems a bit much, though there are some interesting prompts that could be helpful in digging deeper. It seems oriented to contemporary settings, but that shouldn’t deter genre writers.

Cthreepo.comLink to wizard

This tool is actually something of a wizard, walking you through all the inputs to create your character and then give you a fully-realized character profile sheet upon completion. I haven’t followed it all the way through, but if you find the above templates overwhelming this might be better, as you only see a few questions at a time.

The Imaginings of a Creative WriterLink to template

This one seems a little more reasonable in length, but is definitely geared to contemporary characters. Where this one stood out to me was in that the creator includes a fully-realized template for a character in which she answers all the questions as if she were the character filling out the template on herself. I had never considered that before, and it might be a helpful exercise.

The Writer’s CraftLink to template page – Link to the character template

The page linked contains links to several different templates for developing characters, scenes, and settings. Of all the templates I looked at, this was the one I liked most. It was also the most intimidating at first, as it looks almost like a character sheet for a role-playing game. If I use it I’ll likely distill it down into something less…boxy?

What I liked most was that the prompts here encourage you to seriously consider the character’s role in the story and how it unfolds. It’s less concerned with description and factoids and more about developing the character and their arc. Even if I don’t use this one outright I intend to borrow some ideas.

Creative Writing NowLink to template

This is another template that seems to hit the “sweet spot” with me; not too long, but not too brief. It’s actually two templates with bonus material. Use one for adult characters, the other for child characters, and the bonus material for added development. These templates seem less “time-sensitive”, as well.

 

I still don’t know if any of these are “just right” for what I need, but they’re a good place to start. In the end I’ll probably develop my own template, borrowing ideas from many of these.

This was also just scratching the surface. I’m certain I could have gone on indefinitely searching through template after template in the search results, but this is a good overview of what’s out there. Feel free to dig deeper.

Now I turn to you, fellow “Tankers”: What templates do you use? What elements do you need to define in order to feel you have sufficient depth to your characters? What resources have you used that you find helpful? Drop a comment here or on Facebook and let us know what you use!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.

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