Character Basics— “Who am I and what am I doing here?”
When you’re preparing to play D&D, the first thing you do is create a character. For the game, there’s a pre-made sheet that helps keep track of important information and most are specialized according to their occupation.
Creating your character is important. There are things you must know about this person whose story you’re going to tell and you don’t want to accidentally change details mid-storyline. Inconsistencies like that will be noticed. Now if this were D&D, I’d tell you to grab your worksheet, a few 6-sided dice and start rolling them. If you want to learn more-- or if you're an old pro, you can find archived D&D adventures, worksheets, maps and more at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/downloads.
However, this isn’t, so we’re going to go step-by-step through the character sheet I’ve created. Feel free to modify to make room for your notes and more.
My character sheet began with my playing D&D and not having any premade sheets, so I created my own. Then I attended one of Morgan Hawke’s workshops about writing, and added some of the items in her worksheets into mine. Over the years, I’ve added, subtracted, and modified my sheets until I was satisfied. What I ended up with helps me keep track of important physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual aspects that I’ll reference throughout the story.
Take a sheet of paper, lined or unlined, and at the top- write the name of the story (if you know it) and label one corner “Character Sheet”. Then skip a line or so, then down along the left margin, one each line, put the following: name, age, date of birth, height, weight, body type, skin. Skip a line or two, then list: charisma, sexual preference, personality type, character type, occupation.
Now it’s time to fill it in and bring our character to life.
Name- this is self explanatory. Give the full birth name, nicknames if applicable on this line. The goal here is to establish your character’s identity. In most cultures, names mean something, so when choosing a name- see if it means anything and if that reflects your character’s essence. If it does, it’ll enhance your story further. One note about creating names or using hard to pronounce names- it’s great to come up with an unusual name, but if readers find it hard to pronounce, then it’s a turnoff. You don’t have to do much to make the name your own, even if you use a common name like Kate. You can change the spelling- Cate, Kaat, Kait, Cait, etc. Remember though that you want the name to reflect the character but be easy enough to be memorable to the reader.
Age, Date of Birth—again, self explanatory. The idea here is to give you a sense of history of when this character grew up. What happened during his childhood and teenage years will be part of his character makeup. You don’t have to include the birth year- I normally don’t because the idea is to be timeless in your story-telling, unless you’re writing a contemporary or historical fiction novel.
Height—this is important so you can relate the character to others. Everyone notices other people’s height, it’s one of those things you just do subconsciously to figure out if you’re over or under or equal to someone at least in physical stature. Note whether they habitually slouch to seem shorter or perhaps they have perfect posture. If they’re shorter or taller than average, it might provide impetus on how they react when they meet new people.
Weight—this helps you to describe your character. Whether he’s fit and muscular, or needs to lose a few pounds, the idea is to have a weight range that helps you to envision what your character looks like. Weight can define how a person sees themselves.
Body type—Is your hero built like a swimmer or a football player? Is she a dainty female or a female warrior type? Body typing will help you along with the weight to physically describe your character. Often times, I’ll find pictures to represent the character up close as well as head-to-toe. Other times, I’ll use a digital art program, like Daz3d Studio (free at www.daz3d.com) to create the character. Body shape can say a lot about a character’s internal essence as well. I usually note what they like to wear most often, what they wear to impress others. This shows how they dress to emphasize or deemphasize their features.
Hair—is it long or short? Wavy or straight? Coloured or natural? Hair is important because we notice this when we look at people in the face. Describe it in detail. Make notes on favourite ways the character wears their hair, especially if it’s long. This helps you when you write to draw upon a visual that can create emotion or direction depending on what you’re going for. If they play with it, write down what they do. Do they hate anyone touching their hair? Do they love having their hair stroked when having sex? Do they take special care of their hair or are they the wash and let it go type?
Eyes—they’re the window to the soul, according to some people. Eye colours and shape are important to help describe as well as to show emotions. Give some thought to the brows, the lashes, the upper lid, the lower lid, the corners, whether or not the character has perfect vision or some kind of astigmatism. Or are they blind? These are things that you’ll need to know. Do they squint to read? Might need glasses, then. Do their eyes give away their thoughts? Or do they have that impassive look that frightens most people?
Skin—what colour is it? Do they have dry skin, oily skin? Is the hero hairy all over? Or perhaps he’s only got sprinkling of hair on his chest. Does she tan or does she burn? Do her hands have calluses from taking care of the lawn? Are his hands that of someone who doesn’t do manual labor? Skin tone and texture help deepen the senses and gives even more clarity to the characters as readers learn more about what a character looks like physically. Is there a tattoo hiding beneath the clothes? Are they comfortable with nudity? Are there freckles or moles? Is there a birth mark that embarrasses them? Though I don’t like associating skin colour to ethnicity—this is where I’ll note their ethnic background as it makes it easier to find when I need it.
Now that we’re done noting the basic physical characteristics, we’re going to note some basic psychological characteristics about our new character. These are small points that maintain the essence of the character and how s/he relates to others.
Assignment #1- think of a story idea. It doesn't have to be a good one. It doesn't even have to be a complete idea with plots, subplots or more. Jot it down for reference. Then start your character sheets. Create one for each major character that will have a POV or major screen time in the story.