Someone sent a comment that I had all ready done a posting about character tearsheets and cheatsheets earlier. One, yes thank you for pointing that out. I am fully aware that I did a brief blog post on these subject earlier. Two, that post was very brief and not very informative, but was me giving insight as to how I created characters and I didn’t devote as much time to explaining myself as I was currently writing and editing my novel at the same time. And for anyone wondering, no I did not allow the comment to be posted as there was some foul language and for everyone’s sake, I have the right to refuse to publish such things.
As the last blog post went in depth to discuss how to do character tearsheets and why a writer may find them helpful, I thought it would be as useful to discuss the concept of a cheatsheet. Now, this name is a misnomer because it’s not really a cheatsheet per se. On my computer, I call them Character Charts and they also exist in the novel notebook I have (for each novel) as the same thing. I refer to them as cheatsheets because having the information available to me on the laptop makes it easy for me when editing or writing instead of having to stop and rifle through the notebook to the appropriate page. Also, I tended to add information when typing it out that is not available in the notebook of information that I decided was more relevant to the telling of the character in terms of dialogue or characterization (physical tells, etc).
From Pinterest; yes it’s for a different genre, but look at some of the questions each section is asking here. Some of these may end up on your character cheatsheet.
From Pinterest (daddilifeforce.com); this is the basic form I used when developing my own character chart. I didn’t use all of these questions, but many of these were useful in developing my own questions I wanted to answer.
Both of the above charts were very useful to me when coming up with my own version of a character chart. I primarily used the bottom one, but I do think the top one has good references to Religion and Psychology that I did use. I changed Race to Race/Ethnicity for my own purposes and I included a View on Self for each character because a someone who’s evil doesn’t see themselves as evil and someone who’s strong may think they are weak in a certain way. Almost like an insight into their own personal view of a flaw (for me). I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way or doing these and it should be personalized to a writer’s style. I did 24 of these for my novel, each one being a word document. There is a 25th one of miscellaneous characters of just people like servants, people mentioned but never seen in the novel and I have listed stripped down, basic information: Name (and any meaning if there is any), Age, Occupation, Looks, Personality, Family. Looks would include Race/Ethnicity. There are 5 people listed on that one document (technically, 4 people and 1 Lawyer firm, but you get the general idea).
From Pinterest; this chart actually reminded me of something one might do for a Character role on Stage or for a Costume Design. Yet it’s a chart and it may be a form that works for you.
My mother said this above form looks like a government issued Tax form, which I have to giggle and state it kind of does. The purpose of these is for you to understand your character. It sounds simple, but it’s deceptive and difficult. You have to know your character inside and out. You have to know them intimately, from their most sacred thoughts, to passing fancies, to even smells or foods they can’t stand. You have to know them so well that if a fan asks you a question, you can answer-or not and allow them to figure it out themselves. After all, sometimes too much information can kill one’s love of the world that was created (Rowling, I am talking about you). The best advice I ever read was to think about this as an interview. You are conducting an interview of your character and are trying to get as much information as possible. You may start off with the basics and over time, as the story develops, you will find out more. Hopefully, you will remember to update the chart when that happens so you don’t forget.
From tearchersherpa.com; while this is geared towards school children, this wouldn’t be a bad way of brainstorming for a writer. I used this same form for one of my characters and it helped.
As you can see from the above example, not all charts are word heavy. And if you are just trying to get a feel for a character, I really think the above chart would be a good place to start. Most writers that I have spoken to and have read about have all agreed that you do need some way of keeping track of your characters. Charts are one way of doing this. Now, if you decide to just print out pages and fill them in, then getting a binder or having a folder is going to be your way of keeping track of the information. OIf you want a way of somehow putting it on the computer (so you have adigital copy), I think scanning them as individual PDFs would be the way to go to ensure you have a digital set with you, and a physical set as backup. Yes, I may be a little crazy of having 2 versions (hand written then type written), but I like having two copies. I can take the handwritten notebook with me when I print out my novel at FedEx and begin to edit and revise it without having to turn on the laptop. I also make sure to have my research notebooks on hand as well so I can fact check and verify any and all dates that I put in it because we all make typing errors. It’s maddening, but a fact of our profession. And I’ve learned, through trial and error, that even reading it doesn’t always catch the errors. I’ve gone really old school and read it aloud. Sometimes what looks fine on paper sounds really odd out loud. Sounds crazy but it works. Also really a good idea for working dialogue.
Basically, find a method that works for you. Use Pinterest, use Google. Look at all the options that are out there. Pick and chose from them to create your own chart. Because what works for one novel or even more than one isn’t always going to work for all of them. That’s the beauty of creating your own version. Because you have tailored it to fit your needs, you can easily continue to tailor fit it for your projects! Never let an author or even an agent tell you that you are doing it wrong. There is no wrong way to do this. There is YOUR way and THEIR way. YOUR way is always the best.