Wednesday, June 21, 2017

# On Writing # Post

3 Reasons Why You Need a Character Worksheet

On Select Wednesdays, I post tips and strategies for writers. 

by J. Rose Allister
Whether you're the type of writer who is a careful planner or a free-wheeling pantser, taking the time to create a worksheet for each of your main characters can be a vital help to the writing process. The "worksheet" can be a simple notepad file peppered with random facts, an actual spreadsheet or worksheet taken from the many that are available online, or a full-on, fancy dossier complete with photos, a birth natal chart, and a family tree. Either way, there are three main reasons why you should consider using one:

1. Real Greetings are Dull and Expected

When two acquaintances meet up in real life, their initial exchange involves a volley of social niceties that are routine, required...and boring. If you're sitting nearby, you'll hear something like this:

This might go on for another couple of minutes, depending. The exchange happens automatically, with little thought on the answers. Ever greet someone and responded with, "Fine, you?" only to realize they hadn't actually asked how you were first? You're on autopilot. A great place to be if you're flying a plane, but fiction should never put a reader on automatic. "Routine, required, boring," are three words we don't want to see pop up in reviews.

2. Insight into their Next Move

Have you ever built up a scene or the overall plot to a point where you're struggling with what your character would do next? Have you ever had critique feedback or reviews where people didn't find a character's actions plausible? A worksheet can offer you a sort of "sketch" of the character, with tidbits of information that can inform you about their likely reaction to a situation. 

For instance, two characters are in a room when an earthquake hits. One grew up where they happen all the time. The other has never experienced one before. Which one is likely to panic? Would the first-timer, who has never likely been drilled in quake safety, automatically go into a "cover and hold on" posture? 

3. As a Continuity Catcher

There have been many times when I've accidentally changed a character's eye color, age, or a vital fact from their past.  By keeping track of vital details, I can maintain a story's continuity. This has proven especially valuable when writing a series or a book where you're juggling a number of major characters.

So consider tossing together a worksheet ahead of time and add to it as you go along. This can be a time-saver in both drafting and editing alike. Happy writing!
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J. Rose Allister is the author of more than thirty books, primarily romance/erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night.

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