Character Sketch Formulas: Or, How To Make Your Character Come Alive

I usually don’t spend much time observing people and making character sketches or profiles.  Sure, I people watch, but usually I’m too focused on the watching to sit and write.  Also, I don’t do the whole coffee shop or Starbucks thing. One, I live in a small town where there is one coffee shop, tiny, where I know everyone, and two, well, I just don’t see the point when I live in a small town where I know practically everyone. 

When I do make a character sketch, I don’t have any specific formula.  I read in  The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray his formula for a sketch:

  • Sex:
  • Hair:
  • Dress:
  • Body:
  • Shoes:
  • Face:
  • Mouth:
  • Poses:
  • Build:
  • Imperfections:
  • Age:
  • Birth Date:
  • Birth Place:
  • Home (Imaginary):
  • Favorite Room
  • View out the window:
  • Habits:
  • Vehicles:
  • Name:
  • Motive:
    What does the character Want?

For some people this formula might work, but I find it frustrating.  Rarely do I focus much on size or structure.  I’m usually more interested in the character on the whole and how they will fit into a story.  Many times I will write a mini story or a bit of flash fiction for them

Again too, rarely  do I borrow a person for an actual character.  However, there is one person I am trying to write into a character. Let’s call her Miss Potter (actually, that is her name and one Halloween she and her sister dressed as Harry Potter’s aunts. How cool is that?!!) Well, Miss Potter is cool.  She is in her late forties and has this gorgeous honey-blonde hair that she wears in a long braid.  I want her hair.  And she  has beautiful blue eyes.  I know poets can wax, well, poetic about a person’s eyes, but truly, she has gorgeous eyes.  She wears these great colors like pink grapefruit Capri pants, or soft blue fleece jackets.  She’s very earthy and natural, organic is a word I would use, wearing minimal makeup, but enough to make her really beautiful.

I find her fascinating and every time she comes to visit, I pull out my camera and try to get a few shots of her, or a video or two to get her movement or voice. I want her to be my best friend; my sister; someone who is a part of my life. She is that cool.

Despite  all of this, I tried using  the above formula for a character sketch. I started it back in the winter after I first met Miss Potter, and I’ve yet to finish it. Not because I don’t want to, but more because the formula seems lacking in true character.  No feeling.  Now, there are some aspects of the formula I can use, considering I tend to forget the clothes, habits, and outlook on life (I.E. Home-Habits of the formula) Those things can really set the character.

So, while I won’t stick with this formula, I do have another one I found that is a bit more like the mini story.  Using the book Writing Romance by Vanessa Grant.

Personality: (Basically, who is this person, what drives them, how do they care about people in their life, what are their dreams, etc.

Basics   (Birth and place; Race/culture; Religion at birth; Physical)

The above you kind of flesh out to the specifics and adding in the extra details.

Developement (Parental training, i.e. what was this person’s life like growing up? Siblings? Life at home? School?)

(Education: which is pretty much self-explanatory)

(Occupation, what does this person do?  Do they like it? Etc.)

(Social, how do they get out? What do they do for fun, if they do get out? Lovers? Friends?)

That is the first part. The second part of the sketch goes into more detail about people in this person’s life and how they react. Along with more details about occupation, social, and such.  To me, this way of writing a sketch is more realistic. Clearly there is a difference between a woman writer and a male writer. And obviously, different writers will use a specific formula that works for them.

I’m curious what all of you use to write a character sketch.  Drop me a comment and tell me.  You can also read one of my character sketches I made, using Ms. Grant’s formula to some degree.  See HERE.

Writing on



2 thoughts on “Character Sketch Formulas: Or, How To Make Your Character Come Alive

  1. Pingback: Character Sketches – Why is My Antagonist Evil? | Shannon M. Howell

  2. Pingback: Tuesday Tip « Adventures in Writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s