Will a character sheet create a well rounded character?
When I was younger I made a lot of character sheets. Those surveys are the 20 or more questions about your character’s backstory and life that are supposed to help you create a well rounded character. As I did a lot of these, looking back on them, I wonder if they actually helped me or not? Or was it just another tool to think I made a realistic character?
There are a lot of opinions out there on the internet about character creation forms. The general consensus seems to be that they’re helpful but don’t get too caught up in them.
I used them mainly for my main characters and my protagonist as I wanted them to be well developed. They took a lot of time and energy, but they were good references when I wanted an obscure detail.
Although at times I felt I got really wrapped up in them and keeping to whatever I had originally written down.
It’s important to remember that you do not have to stick with whatever you put down in the first place. If you’re starting one before you write, make sure to use it just as a reference. You’ll probably be changing a lot when you edit.
Just as we cannot fully describe ourselves in a list, a character sheet will never capture the true full picture of a character. How to write them will make or break the character.
Just remember not to make them perfect, otherwise that’s a mary sue and not a true realistic character.
It’s also important to remember that these sheets are not only useful for your protagonist, but your main characters and any villains or anti-heros as well. Even if your protagonist is a well developed character, but your other characters fall flat, your protagonist will not be able to shine as brightly as they could have.
When filling out these sheets and developing a well rounded character, I encourage you to think about what makes you yourself. What are all your quirks and strengths and weaknesses? What’s your backstory? If you filled one out for yourself, what would you say?
Another useful way to determine how well these work is to take a character that you think is well rounded and one that isn’t. Just from reading the story, what details can you fill out and what can’t you? Do you think you’ve figured out everything just from the story?
Like a card player, we don’t want to reveal all our cards at once. So while filling out a sheet, figure out what pieces of information are important to include in the story and what isn’t. Your character sheet can be super detailed and filled out, but 90% of it will never make it into the story.
That doesn’t mean your character won’t be well rounded, but there is a lot that you don’t always have to straight up say. A lot of the information on this sheet is for your reference, not the reader’s.
How do I know if I should fill out a character questionnaire or not?
Again, this depends a lot on the writer and the story you are working on. I reference these for novels a lot, because I think they are helpful for novels, but if you write short stories, a reference sheet might also not be a bad idea.
With short stories, it’s important to still include details, just not all the details. A lot of well written short stories I think leave out some details for the reader to realize on their own.
With novels, they can get so big and include so many different characters, it’s important to make sure you have everything correct. Especially if you’re writing a series or multiple connected short stories.
I think it comes down to if you can’t remember the details as you write or are worried about getting details mixed up. If you are, look into something that will be easy to keep on hand or not.
I would like to point out that with all the guides available on this subject, you can also create these sheets as a mood board. Character sheets are at most guides to help you remember details. So maybe you don’t want to go and read everything every time. Instead, create a picture reference of your character. As long as it has the details you need, that’s important.
How should you use a character sheet?
If you’re more of a panster and like to write without an outline, a character sheet might not be the right tool for you. But at the same time, they could be helpful for filling out after you’ve written your story.
Then, when you go to do another round of edits, you can keep all your details straight and change things as needed.
If you love a good outline, then filling out a sheet for your characters might be really useful and exciting. This can be great to reference in conjunction with your outline and help inform your story as you write.
You could make your questionnaire a part of a larger character profile if you’re keeping track of things about your character. Including pictures, maps, charts, timelines, etc.
Again, these can be really useful once you start editing and rewriting your novel.
How long should my character profile sheet be?
This is a big question that I see popping up in forums and blog posts about character surveys. I think the length is up to the writer and the best sheet is one that feels complete to you. You can fill them out as little or as much as you want.
They can be 20 questions or 120 questions. Doesn’t really matter as long as you find it useful.
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. This all depends on the need of the writer and their story.
Some people want super detailed sheets and other’s just need the basics.
Some go into personality and backstory and others not so much.
You can always create your own character sheet or use one of the many versions out there on the internet. While there are specific worksheets meant specially for this, you could also fill out personality tests like Strength Finders or the Myers Brigg version as your character as well.
Of course, filling out a personality test might be more useful once you have filled out a sheet to begin with, but if you already have an idea of who they are and are looking to flesh them out more, a personality test might be fun.
If you’re using a program like Evernote, they have a character sheet as well as several other templates made for creative writing.
Scrivener also has a character profile as well included in their fiction templates, but it isn’t very detailed. Here is a good tutorial for setting one up!
What if I need help filling out my sheet with ideas or I don’t know where to start?
If you’re having trouble filling one out, checking out a resource like One Stop For Writer’s many thesauruses would be useful. Sometimes we want to learn more about what a vice is or how to describe greed, so I love referencing their online manuals or their book formats too. They also have a program for building out character profiles!
Use an online character generator or study traits of people that inspire you. Sometimes we need a little inspiration to start coming up with our own ideas, so there is no harm in looking at how other people fill their sheets out and gathering inspiration.
Other places to look for ideas is horoscopes, filling out an “about me” about your character, or asking a friend to brainstorm with you.
A good story is about the details, and while character sheets and questionnaires are helpful for creating well rounded characters, they will never be 3D if you don’t write them like real people. You can’t list off their fears and aspirations in a novel, but you can weave the details you discover into the story.
Ultimately, the details matter, but so does the time you take to write them well. Learn everything you can about your characters so that you can write them realistically into the story. Make sure to keep your details straight, and you’ll be doing good.