Get to know your characters

character sketches


I have always been a sceptic about writing character sketches or profiles for a work in progress. It simply wasn’t for me. I didn’t need index cards of physical descriptions and personalities. I reminded me so much of school when teachers assigned busy work for research papers.

Traditional character sketches have you fill in a questionnaire for each of your main characters:

  • Occupation
  • Physical Description
  • Personality
  • etc.

While this might have you thinking and digging deeper into your characters, I still find this elementary. However, when I reached a recent plot wall, I needed something to help me navigate my floundering narrative and thin character development. I blocked off an entire Sunday and went to work creating my own version of character sketches for sceptics. I find these wholly more useful and allowed me to think and examine my characters, plot and narrative more closely. I developed connections and expanded on my novel. This process can also be used for short stories, plays, screenplays and novellas

Character Sketch Checklist

  1. Role in Story Think of this as their story occupation and how they relate to the protagonist and others within the story. This can be a simple line or two. 
  2. Character Background A quick summation of where they came from. If you were meeting a friend for dinner and telling them about this character in 2 minutes, what would you say about them.
  3. What does the character want? SUCH AN IMPORTANT QUESTION. Even secondary characters want something. If your character doesn’t want something, question why are they there. It can be a literal want or a figurative want. It can be multiple ones, but try to get to the essence of what is driving them. This answer can be as long as you need it to be, but get to the point quickly. 
  4. What is the main situation the character finds themselves in? Many events or actions can happen in your story or novel, but think of the situation more as the conundrum, the problem or the mystery that needs to be solved or sorted. 
  5. What is the character’s habit and mannerism? Sometimes, it’s worth it to take a sentence or two and think about your character as a person. Are they mild mannered, a snake or does she like to go for swims in the ocean at daybreak? 
  6. Internal Conflict(s) At least one conflict that the character endures within their own mind or within themselves. This is an emotional question or a conflict of their own making or between themselves. Make of it what you wish. 
  7. External Conflict(s) A little more self-explanatory. The main conflict or conflicts that are at play from outside forces. What is getting in the character’s way that is not themselves?
  8. Additional Notes An optional area for breathing room or if you didn’t have a place in the answers above. Maybe additional questions for yourself.

Try to answer every point (1-7). This is especially helpful if you’ve run up against a plot wall or have run yourself in circles. 

*Download the free PDF character sketch checklist.

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“Frankenstein: graveyards, scientific experiments and bodysnatchers”


The British Library offers a taster article by scholar Ruth Richardson about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the influence in Shelley’s day of grave robbing. It’s a light intro that many readers probably know in regards to Shelley’s life and the origin of Frankenstein (a game played in Geneva for all participants to come up with a suitable ghost story), but the article also frames the era of grave robbing and mass bodysnatching. Her own mother dying soon after childbirth, this could have been an illicit activity that Mary Shelley constantly thought over:

Frankenstein: graveyards, scientific experiments and bodysnatchers by Ruth Richardson, 15/5/2014 at The British Library website

She may indeed have lived for years with the fear that despite the willows her father had planted there, her mother’s body might have been stolen and dismembered.



“An absence of presence: domestic records”


I found this brisk article at Historia, which is the online magazine for The Historical Writers’ Association. My interest comes because I recently read The Familiars by Stacey Halls and am always curious to hear more from writers themselves. I was very disappointed to cancel my tickets for a Waterstones event in February headlined by Hall as I had a dreadful migraine, but at least reading this piece gave me a small view in to what sparked her interest for this time period in England, witches and women’s lives.

An absence of presence: domestic records by Stacey Halls, 6/2/2019 at Historia

Familiar things, like household accounts, can be the only traces that can lead us to the everyday lives of women in previous centuries. For author Stacey Halls, domestic records painted a detailed picture of 17th century life.