The Reason You Create Character Sketches
July 31, 2014
AS A WRITER, I both love and loathe the character sketch.
Creating a character sketch can be fun. The exercise nets the kind of knowledge one uncovers during happy hour with the straight-laced co-worker who has a secret life you never imagined. It allows a writer to get elbow-deep in a character’s mind and discover her motivations. A character sketch can unlock a chest of unexpected treasures which will bring the character to life and make the story more vibrant. Even when that information is never told directly to the reader, it informs the writer’s knowledge and can have a powerful impact on the story.
I use a detailed character sketch to propel my relationship with my characters from that of casual acquaintances to close friends and confidantes. This enables me to understand my characters in ways that even they have yet to discover.
So why do I also loathe the character sketch?
Because excavating your character’s life and brain in this manner feels like digging up a quarter acre lot with a five-inch archaeology trowel, as opposed to a shovel. It’s hard, gut-wrenching work.
Perhaps that’s what makes it so much sweeter when, sweaty, dirty and on the verge of giving up, you discover a tiny treasure of unspeakable value. Like a lost wedding ring the owner never thought she’d see again.
In those moments, it all becomes worth it. Every blister, every cut, every broken finger nail. Even if you aren’t the ultimate benefactor of the intense treasure hunt.
The primary beneficiary of the character sketch is the reader. Not because we should proceed to dump every obscure bit of the character’s backstory in the reader’s lap. But because the character rings truer and comes alive on the page.
Character sketches written after the release of a book can be both fun and functional for readers. It can be fun for past readers to understand more about the character. On the other hand, it gives prospective readers a peek into the character’s psyche to see if it’s worth investing their valuable time into getting to know this character better.
Today I’m over at the Romance Lives Forever Blog doing a character sketch of the volatile and complicated Jamie Charles, the heroine in my most recent release, Love Me Not. Here is a brief excerpt:
What is your character’s family like?
Jamie comes from a broken home and had a very difficult childhood. Her father left home when she was about ten. Her mother was an alcoholic and drug addict. Jamie had planned to run away from home at thirteen, but her best friend’s family took her in and became her legal guardians. She loves them and is fiercely loyal to them. Yet, she trusts few other people.
Is she close to family?
Jamie is very close to her adopted family. However, she hasn’t seen her biological father since she was ten and hasn’t seen her biological mother in more than fifteen years.
If someone from your character’s past showed up, who would she NOT want it to be, and why?
The last person in the world that Jamie would want to see is her biological mother, Josephine Charles. Yet, near the outset of the story, that is exactly what happens. Josephine is trying to get her life together and wants to make amends with Jamie. This sets off a series of events in which Jamie is forced to deal with extremely painful secrets from her past that neither she nor Josephine are truly prepared to face.
As a writer, do you use character sketches? If so, what do you like or hate about them? As a reader, have you ever purchased a book based on a character sketch?
Please click the book cover image to read more about Reese Ryan and her novels.