How To Outline A Character For A Novel

Fictional Characters Need Outlines

Imagine Toy Story without Woody and Buzz Lightyear. What would The Lord of the Rings be without Frodo and Gandolf? Would anyone have watched The Office without Michael, Jim, Pam, and Dwight?

All fiction writers prepare for novels in their own way, but they all end up with the same basic elements. Every novel needs a concept that will develop into a plot. But the ones who bring us through the story are our characters.

A story is nothing without characters. A story is worse than nothing without compelling characters.

Compelling Characters Don't Happen By Accident

Compelling Characters Don’t Happen By Accident

The more I write, the more I understand the necessity for precise planning.

Classic stories don’t appear out of thin air. They take time to cultivate. They take patient. And most of all they take planning.

There is more than one way to go about outlining your novel, but if it doesn’t include the creation of compelling characters, then your audience won’t have anyone to cling to when they’re reading your book.

By the end of this post I will have shown you how you can create outlines for your own characters.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to check your creativity at the door.

Your own imagination is what will drive your story from that first spark until the last book is sold.

Your Characters Begin With You

Not one of my characters is a chubby, thirty-four year old with graying brown hair, who lives with his wife and two kids.

None of my characters is me. But all of them begin with me.

Characters reveal who you are as a person and how you think about the world.

As we go through the character sketch outline, I want you to remember that while your characters aren’t you (unless you’re writing a memoir, of course) but they are a reflection of your thoughts. Your job will be to expand your creative concept into characters that you want to use to tell a story that shares your beliefs with the world.

How To Create A Character Sketch Sheet In Five Easy Steps

How To Create A Character Sketch Sheet In Five Easy Steps

The character outline I’m about to give you is just one example of a way you can map out your character’s description. Alter it how you will, but go into as much detail as possible while you’re doing it.

Character Name

Names have meaning and they’re more important to a story than you might think at first glance.

Could you imagine if Luke Skywalker was called John Johnson instead? It wouldn’t resonate the same. (Sorry, John Johnson, if you’re reading.)

You can find your names in many reasonable places. You can find one that has personal significance to you (Timmy from The Dream was named after my best friend growing up), one that uses alliteration (Pepper Potts from Iron Man), or one that has a significant meaning to the story (Good Will Hunting).

What you don’t want to do is put a name down without any thought. Your characters have meaning and so do their names.

Character’s Position In The Story

Every character deserves to be treated with respect when it comes to creating their identity.

Even. the bad guys.

Okay, especially the bad guys.

You need to consider who your characters are and why they’re important to your story.

Everyone has an identity. What makes your character special to the story?

It is your job to determine why any and all characters exist in the world you are creating.

Character’s Physical Description

“She had brown hair and green eyes.”

That’s probably what you’re thinking, but it is only the beginning.

Physical descriptions can help your reader put a face to your story, but it also distinguishes characters from one another, and it enhances your story.

Does your character have a limp? Does that hinder them?

Does your character have 20/10 vision? Does that help them?

Pretend you’re an eyewitness to a crime and you need to describe someone to the police. Brown hair and green eyes will not get a criminal behind bars. Be thorough.

Character’s History

Your character wasn’t born yesterday.

Maybe your character was created in your mind yesterday, but your reader needs to believe that they are real.

The best way to make a character real is to know more about them than you could possibly fit into your novel.

What makes your character the way they are today? Why are they a hero or a villain? Why are they brave or a coward?

Your story has a beginning, but your characters have origins.

Know your character’s origins so that you know how they will act when faced with danger.

Character’s Conflicts

“He walked outside. It was pleasant. He went back inside and took a nap.”

No one is going to read that book.

There is no story without conflict.

Conflict can be internal or external. Your characters can find inner demons or “real life” dragons. But they have to have conflict.

Know why your characters are fighting those conflicts. Do they believe that true love conquers all? Do they believe that money is power?

All characters must have motivation to continue through challenges. What are your characters facing and why are they facing them instead of running away?

Go Create Your Characters

This character sketch outline is only the beginning. You need to take it, make it your own, and develop your characters so that your story is worth reading. You have a voice to share with the world. Make sure your characters live up to it.

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