Each writer has to find something that works for them. Over the years I’ve picked up a few things from books I’ve read and workshops I’ve attended and adapted them to my style. I hope some of what I’ve posted here is helpful.
The first thing I do is take time getting to know my characters. I begin with the hero and heroine and move onto the other main characters and then the secondary characters. For names, I like to scan through the “Character Naming Sourcebook” by Sherrilyn Kenyon. To determine my characters’ personalities, I used “The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines” by Tami Cowden, Carol LaFever and Sue Viders. These two books are invaluable resources whether you write historical, contemporary, romance, women’s fiction, mainstream, suspense, or science fiction.
The form below is a character sketch that I use for my two main characters. I use the same format and modify it as needed for my secondary characters, usually it is less information and only the details that I feel are important to that character’s role in my particular story.
Age and/or DOB:
Relationship to Heroine
As I add in the characteristics, I may add a few extra categories or include glasses or contacts beside eye color. The archetype comes from the book hero & heroine book listed above. I may not use all this information, but I have it if I need it. Also, I sometimes change my character as the book evolves. For instance, someone who is weak or innocent at the beginning of the book may evolve into a stronger and wiser person after a few learned lessons and experiences. If I know this will happen from the beginning. I may include that in my notes on this form.
Filling out a character sketch will also help you with plotting your story. Some stories are plot driven and others are character driven, but either way, you have to know your characters to determine why they make certain decisions. This form has worked to help me better organize my thoughts and story strategy.
For those of us who are busy working other jobs, contributing to church and community activities, keeping the family and household running, it helps us have a quick reference. There are times when we have to drop a story for a period of time to take care of issues and deal with life. When we sit back down to pick up a story where we left off, our characters may seem like strangers again. A character sketch like this will help us reacquaint ourselves with our characters.