5 Reasons to Write a Character Sketch

1)      You get to have true schizophrenic moments and hear voices in your head without a need for medication or institutionalization.  Its odd how, when you begin to really develop a character, they talk to you.  I can literally see them in my mind’s eye, and we chat.  I write as fast as I can, ask them questions and see where it goes.  Sometimes, other characters will even pop in and clarify points.  Then, the schizophrenia can morph into multipersonality disorder and you can experience a smorgasbord of psychological disorders in one writing session – fun stuff.

2)      The characters sometimes know more about their world than you do.  They live there; you don’t, so they can fill you in on what its like for them.  There’s only so much research you can do before you need to just let go, listen to them, and write it out.

3)      Interesting things can pop out about your characters, which opens up all kinds of different plot possibilities.  Like teenagers, they need to find their own way and sometimes have some struggles that you hadn’t anticipated in order to get there, but you won’t know this unless you allow them to tell you.   You can create all the plot ideas you want, but if your characters disagree with your ideas, writing (at least mine) tends to come to a screeching, horrifying halt.  It’s much easier to let the characters direct the action, and it makes it more interesting as well.  For example, until I sketched another character, I had no idea she was an artist.  It just came up, and it really ties into everything about the novel.  It gives her a reason to be places I want her to be, do things I wanted her to do.  It also added quite a few different plot ideas that hadn’t even occurred to me.  I just had to listen for her to tell me that she loves to draw.  She solved a whole plethora of problems with that one statement.

4)      Some details may never, ever find their way into your book, but as you’re writing, you get to know all the juicy stuff that nobody else will ever know.  It’s like having the inside scoop, your own little People magazine on your characters.  You need to know all this stuff because your characters are much more interesting when they’re multi-dimensional, and a character sketch forces this.  As you start writing, without stopping, without editing or censoring, the character develops into a real person.  Even a villain, or antagonist, grew up somewhere, had a mother, had good things in his life.  It’s fun to figure out what those details are right along whatever motivates him to be the evil, nasty bugger that he is.  Or maybe he had a fabulous mom who adored him and he just enjoys being a condescending, entitled jerk.  I want to hear that story from him.

5)      Finally, on an organizational note, a character sketch forces you to write all about your characters in one place.  This is hugely helpful when you’re writing and you forget what color their eyes are, or what their favorite meal is, or if it is their left knee or their right knee that gives them trouble.  You have everything in one easy-to-reference place.  I spent a day last week compiling every random note I’d written about a main character into one file.  Not surprisingly, I had some inconsistencies and contradictions that I was able to work out.  Now, if I need to know something, I can easily reference my handy dandy character sketch file rather than sort through a stack of random notes, all of which are written on different sizes of paper and stuffed  . . . somewhere.  So far, I’ve got 6-8 pages per main character, and I imagine that when this book is all said and done, these sketches will be quite a bit longer.  They’ve taken a bit of time to put together, but it’s been well worth it.