Want to Know Your Characters? Try a Character Sketch.

puzzle

One of the hardest aspects of writing a novel, a good novel, is creating characters that are relatable. Whether you’re writing a 300 word picture book or a  100K+ epic Adult Fantasy, you want your readers to at least respect your main character (MC). We don’t exactly have to agree with some of the MC’s choices (Katniss anyone?) but we need to understand why they act the way they do. And that applies not just to the main character, but to the secondary characters and even the antagonist.

So, how do you write a relatable character? How do you make your readers fall in love with your cast? I honestly wish I had a simple answer for you. About a year ago, I received a rejection on my full manuscript from my dream agent. Heartbreaking, I know. Her reason was that my secondary characters weren’t as well developed as my main characters. In response, I dove into blog posts and classes, trying to figure out a way to fix that.

I experimented with many different techniques and managed to round out my secondary characters, but I didn’t find a specific formula. So when I began to write my newest manuscript, I found myself facing a lot of the same issues.

My MC had more emotions than I could handle. She had a huge backstory and I couldn’t figure out how to portray her character. My secondary characters were lacking and my antagonist definitely had an evil Disney queen vibe to her. I had created this vivid fantasy world, but my characters couldn’t shine within it.

I’d spent a lot of time on Pinterest for this novel, saving art left and right. Many of the drawings had been my inspiration for different scenes. So, I decided to create my own art. Now, I’m not an artist by any stretch. I like to sketch, but that’s about it.

What I did was take each of my characters and sketch them from my mind’s eye. This allowed me to give them facial expressions and stances that were all their own. Then, playing off their body language, I began to write facts about them around their picture. I just wrote whatever came to mind when looking at their picture.

Here are the three I’ve managed to draw so far. I haven’t managed to draw my main character yet because even her image is giving me trouble.

With Kess, I figured out why she was friends with my MC in the first place and why she was so passionate about her country.

With Calix, I figured out why he’s so upbeat despite all that’s happened to him.

With Kieran, I learned that he was more than just a warrior and a prince but he has plans of his own.

You don’t have to be a good artist, but even getting some sort of image of your character on paper can help break through any sort of writer’s block you may have. So I challenge you to give it a try. And if you really aren’t comfortable drawing, you can look through Pinterest.

Happy character sketching!

How do YOU get to know your characters? Share your tips in the comments.

13 comments

  1. I have been saving Pins of my characters, the setting, the holy relics and the illustrated manuscripts involved in my books for two years and finally sent it off to Shutterfly. Wow! When I got it back I was amazed and so was everyone. I plan to go to the Bologna Book Fair on Saturday and take the books with me to show editors and agents. Your drawings are great and I wanted to be an artist like my mom but it skipped two generations and now my granddaughter is the artist.

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  2. I really agree with this, Dana 🙂 I’ve done this for many characters, for the fleshing out, but also for the accuracy in description and to have these things clear in my mind. It’s wonderful how actually seeing the details makes them more real and helps develop who they are 🙂

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  3. Hi Dana, what a great idea. Drawing uses a different part of the brain from writing, so that has to help uncover details about characters. I do something like the Pinterest approach–I go looking for people online who remind me of my characters, then I put the thumbnails into Scrivener as part of the character outlines. I find that I gravitate toward particular facial expressions and away from others, for certain characters, and that definitely helps me understand them.

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