Walk a mile in your characters’ shoes.
Once the basic idea for a character springs to mind, what comes next? Personally I create a list for each one, citing their physical appearance, background and personal traits and quirks. I find this aids continuity, thus forestalling screaming inconsistencies such as a character starting out with blue eyes in chapter one, only to end up with brown eyes in chapter twenty!
Listing the character’s details allows the author to take mental journeys, walking a mile in their shoes; why is this important? Well, if for instance one of your creations acts uncharacteristically, which we all do from time to time, this has to be supported in a viable way, so that the reader finds it believable. “Walking” alongside your character enables you to know their mental processes; in other words, you get to know them and why they do what they do.
For example why does a normally honest, upright person act contrary to their normal selves? Perhaps they tell an enormous lie to protect someone they love, even if it means hurting the person they’re lying to. If you know your character well, it’s therefore easy to portray their anguish at being forced to act contrary to their beliefs.
What if a character is amoral? What’s the reason for their lack of empathy with others? A bad childhood? Mental illness? The possibilities are endless and that’s why character sheets are a good idea. Not only are they a great aide-de-memoir, they enable a writer to chop and change characteristics at will, without the need to constantly backtrack through their work to check if these changes will fit.
The author can create as much or as little character detail as desired, depending on what role the characters play in the story. Some characteristics may not even reach the light of day, but can still serve as tools to enable the writer to visualise their creations.
I have used the same character sheet for all three books of The Silver Flute Trilogy, adding new characters and deleting others when necessary. It’s proved extremely useful in maintaining continuity and in refining and evolving the characters.
Of course some writers don’t need such aids, but for those of us with less than perfect memories, they can prove invaluable.
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