Character Cheatsheets

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.

character creation sheet - Google Search

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).

Image result for The Hero's Journey blank

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.

This set includes a Character Feelings/Character Traits anchor chart and 2 different graphic organizers. The Character Feelings graphic organizer allows students to track a character's changing feelings through the beginning, middle, and end of a story. The Character Traits graphic organizer gives students a tool to identify and record a character's personality traits and evidence for those traits.

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.

It is the opposite for me, this is where the love of my life found me

Pinterest

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.

Presenting “Austen Spoilers” Cartoon by John Atkinson

Character Tearsheets: An Introduction

Character tearsheets are something that is common in the Theatre (possibly Film and television) world for Designers. Particularly Costume Designers, though I am certain Hair & Makeup Designers use them as well (in Theatre, Hair & Makeup tend to fall under the domain of the Costume Designer while in Film and Television, that’s an entirely different department). The easiest way of explaining it is a typical tearsheet is a word document (or similar program) of one page where you have pictures/images of a character for design purposes. It’s a way of visually assisting you in coming up with a design for a show. Sort of like a quick visual scan. Most costume students end up doing this in programs as we generally don’t have time to render (fancy term meaning draw and paint/maker/etc) in the short amount of time we are given for the assignment. Sometimes we are given mere days, so doing tearsheets is a quick way of designing a show for an assignment.

An example of a grad student’s tearsheet for Midsummer Night’s Dream on their online portfolio (courtesy of Kristalduke.com)

What you can see from the above example, is the “actor” she has chosen for the role. The jacket style she is considering and possible colors. I also see pants, vests, shoes with spats, a top hat, a cane (in one image, but that just me coincidence), and a fob watch. So, one gets the general idea of where she is going with that design. And you may be wondering, how does this relate to writing?

A writer’s board (courtesy of screencraft.org)

Places like Screencraft and other writer’s resources always recommend a corkbaord or whiteboard to jot down ideas and help build your novel or screen play, etc. And if that works for you, fantastic! My mind doesn’t work that way. Maybe because I come from an English & Theatre background that’s more academic or because I’ve never found those tools helpful other than posting notices, who knows. All I know is I grew frustrated trying those routes in trying to organize my novel and my thoughts because it didn’t work for me. So I turned to ways that I knew worked and they helped me a lot, so I hope that somewhere, they may help someone else. Instead of designing a character for a show, I used a word document (some ran to two pages instead of one) to help me visualize each of the main characters and a few of the secondary ones as well. I pulled images such as celebrities that I thought had the color hair that I liked. Period portraits that showed the outfits or poses I thought fit that character. To putting images of books they read, furniture they used. Even they’re favorite kind of tea or flowers. Anything and everything that would help me “see” that character and create them (especially their moods, and dialogue) in the novel. And I did make notes on the sheets, especially if I couldn’t recall why I picked an image. For instance, I used an image of Cary Grant and specifically chose it because I loved the smile in it. That smile, to me, was the smile I saw my character having. So I made a note of it on the tearsheet that said “Cary Grant Smile.”

This is the picture of Cary Grant smiling that I liked. (Getty Images)

It doesn’t have to be that complicated and it doesn’t have to have a lot of images. If there’s a landscape of a picture of a tree that to you, screams a certain character, put it on your sheet. Something about it is speaking to you, so use it. And if it’s a certain color (like a paint swatch or just the color of a jacket), then yes, make a note that it’s that color you are associating with that character. It could inspire a scene in the novel, you never know. This doesn’t have to be a hard process or a long one. I only have tearsheets for 8 characters for my first novel and I have more than 8 characters. I really only focused on the main ones and the ones I was struggling with in terms of trying to write dialogue for (they were secondary ones). Most don’t get this kind of attention so don’t feel you have to do one for each and every single character. If you have 4 main characters, do one for each of them. Then if you find you are struggling later one for one or two others, then go back and do a tearsheet for each of those characters. I found it really helped me focus on those problem characters and scenes that I struggled with because it helped me focus.

Lyme Cobb (antonyspencer.com)

Another use for them that I did that I had never done before was use them for images of places that the characters travel to. Of course, if it’s a fantasy world, that may be difficult, but if you know the world contains mountains, why not have a tearsheet of different mountain ranges for inspiration? How about different sunsets or forests? Or carriages or carts if that’s how they are traveling? It does help you focus on your novel because it’s a great little visual aide in narrowing down all those images you may have been collecting on Pinterest. And I even have a tearsheet for a cat because it’s a character in the novel. Grey cats are not all the same I will state in my defense and grey kittens in particular vary. Will nay of this information make it’s way into the novel? No. But it’s good to have it available in case anyone who ends up reading the book asks. think of it as your own personal background information that you can share or not with your fans in the future. And hopefully, you will share.

1995’s Persuasion at Lyme (janeausten.co.uk)

I hope this has been insightful, helpful, but most of all, inspirational. I want people to learn from my mistakes (as in listening to experts who say to only do things a certain way) and realize that there are many ways to go about the writing process. I’ve found a method that works for me. And it works well because it’s familiar, it’s easy, and it’s simple to do. Will it work for everyone? No and I don’t expect it to. But is it something I hope people will try? Yes, I do hope those of you who are writing will try this method and see if it’s helpful for you. And I hope it is. There is no right or wrong way here. We are all learning together.