The Writing Life: Character Sketches

person writingIf you’re like me, there are times when the words won’t come.  You have a story in your head, but as you try to flesh it out on paper … nothing.  You hate to even think the words “writer’s block” because writer’s block is like the scary monster under the bed: if you don’t look at it, it isn’t there.  So you quick, look away, plug your ears and start doing anything – house work, social media, TV, exercise – to ignore the lack of words.

Not so long ago, I realized that ignoring the issue didn’t make the words come any faster.  So I switched tactics.  Whenever I felt the cursed “block” start to rear its ugly head, I did an exercise. Not sit-ups or squats, but a writing exercise.  Any kind of writing exercise in any genre.  I have books of prompts and ideas, but one of my favorites is to take a step back from the story and work on a character sketch for one of the peeps on the pages.

There are countless ways to go about drafting character sketches.  My personal favorite is to pretend I’m conducting an in-depth background check on the character.  Yes, I’m dorky enough that I like to put on my pretend FBI hat and dig deep into the life of the pretend person I’m creating.  I tend to write in narrative form, and I have a template I fill out with basic information (date and place of birth, physical description, family make up, etc) as well as details such as early childhood life – including turning points, favorite teachers and childhood games, old friends.  I work my way to the (story’s) present.  I include things like favorite books, favorite foods, quirks, quotes, role models… I don’t necessarily do all of this in one sitting, but instead turn to it as I need to, over time.

All of this not only helps me create a character that I truly know, but one that feels realistic because he or she has a “real” background and internal life that I can refer to as needed while I write.

How do you create your characters?  I’d love to hear different techniques!


4 Comments Add yours

  1. DMGbyrnes says:

    Having a template that you return to to fill out as you create characters is one of the best and easiest ways to help with characters, in my opinion. It’s a great idea to use them as fuel or practice the way you do when you’re being suck up on by writer’s block, thank you. I will have to do that next time. It’s definitely SO much easier to write when you already know who your character is and you only have to ask “would ….. do that?”
    I should do something similar for settings, might be a fun way to change things up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kat says:

    That’s brilliant! I never thought to do it for setting, either, but it is equally as important. We want to feel like the places we read exist… thanks for a great idea! 🙂 Hmmm… I may make creating a setting ‘sketch’ template my next exercise…


  3. DMGbyrnes says:

    🙂 Thank you. Huzzah for new writing exercises to try!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ahhh, good idea! I have the basic information for all of my characters, but it might be worth getting down to the nitty-gritty about each of them. That way, when a moment arises in my story, I’ll know better how they would truly react. And like the comment above, doing this for the setting is brilliant!


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