Sketching Character

Every personality trait known to man lives somewhere deep within each of us; however, we choose to be the person we are... we choose how we want live... and we choose how we want to be known — that's our free will. Like it or not, we are exactly where we are, and who we are because thats what we choose, deliberately. 

For me, there's no greater satisfaction than sketching character for story. Selecting a character's age, personality, race, religion, and physical makeup are all part of the process. It takes time, energy, research and conviction to create a character. It's understanding how choice of character can make a reader feel. It's knowing that the character you create will live within the pages of fiction, but will also live within the the minds of readers for the remainder of time. That's a daunting thought, but it is the reality. 

The Sketching Process

The fun part is creating who the character will be and knowing what's inside their heart and mind. I like to write a short biography on the character to give them substance, background and historical reference to the story—before they even enter. This process brings the character alive, so that they earn the right (so-to-speak) to be part of the story. I do this even for characters that have small roles in the story. If I know who the character is, chances are the reader will too. 

Is the character smart, sly, honest, mean, deceitful, healthy, strong, weak, etc? Are they old, middle-age or young? Then, after I write their bio, I add them to a storyboard in Keynote, along with the other characters in the story. I add a photo, which I'll find online (usually of a no-name actor) to put a face with the name. Typically, I'll print out their photo and post it to my bookshelf or on the wall near my desk in order to visualize the character as they're being developed. I complete the process by writing a short summary of their character traits and attributes. 

Once I know as much as I can about the character, I bring them to life within in the story itself. This can occur at any stage within the novel writing process. For example, if I decide to insert a new character, I'll go through the process previously described and then bring her in. She, like the others, deserves the same effort and thought process — first sketching her character to bring her to life.

Elevating the Character

As the story evolves, it's quite normal for the character to mature... meaning he may not look exactly as he did when you first began. The evolution of character is part of the process. It's a positive sign when you begin to have strong feelings about how the character reacts or thinks in certain situations. You may revisit a chapter you wrote a while ago and not like the way he is positioned in the scene. Does he need to be more outspoken, or more reserve? When your manuscript goes from a rough draft to a first draft, you should see an elevation in the characters.

One of the hardest things to grasp — something I'm continuing to learn and experience — is that the character has always been there, even before he/she was created... you just brought them to life... exactly the way they intended to be. 

—Roger L. Brooks