Scrivener Superpowers

How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Practice

How to Create Character Sketches (for Windows)

(For the Mac version of this tutorial, click here.)

How do you create compelling characters?

Nothing is born in a vacuum. Characters don’t emerge fully formed. Creating compelling characters is a process of getting to know them and working to make them come to life. They’re developed through character sketches, through the writing process itself, through lots feedback, and through diligent revision.

What Is a Character Sketch?

Think of a character sketch as the rough draft of your character. It’s a place where you can freely experiment, where you can tell yourself who your characters are, how they look, and where they come from.

You can type out their whole backstory or just the parts of the timeline that inform your character’s identity. Their inner and external conflicts will be crucial to your story, so be sure to include those, too.

Most importantly, use character sketches as a tool to discover your characters’ key motivations and goals, because they are the engine that drive your story forward.

How to Use Template Sheets in Scrivener

Scrivener has Template Sheets that make building out character sketches easy. If you started using one of their document templates, like the novel template that comes with Scrivener or my No Nonsense Novel Template, there should already be a Template Sheets folder in the your project document that looks like this screenshot:

template-sheets-folder

If not, you can make a Template Sheets folder by creating a new folder in the Binder, selecting it, and then from the Menu choosing Project > Set Selection as Templates Folder.

Visualize Your Characters Using Scrivener’s Corkboard

Now that you have your Template Sheets folder set up, you can generate character sketches by creating new files from the Template Sheets you’ve created.

There are two ways to do this. In the Toolbar, click the arrow next to the Add button, go to New From Template, then click on the template you wish to create. Or, right click on the folder you wish to add a new sketch to in the Binder, then go to Add > New From Template > Name of Your Template.

Here’s the cast of characters from an early draft of my first novel:

all-the-characters

I go for visuals out of the gate, as it helps me ground my character in an image. Having a photo in front of me makes writing about them easier, at first, because the photos jog my imagination. Once I really know my characters (i.e. about twenty-five percent of the way through the first draft), I don’t need to look at the visuals at all. By that point I have a more vivid image of the characters in my head.

If you can’t find photos for every character, that’s okay. Remember that nothing about your planning or pre-production phase (to borrow a film term) is set in stone. Your story will evolve as you write, and so will your characters.

For the images, I’ve picked a few photos I found online. There are several excellent resources on the Internet to get free stock photos. Here are some of my favorites:

To add a photo to a Character Sketch in Scrivener, open your character’s notecard and find the Notes pane of the Inspector. Change the Synopsis pane to take an image by using the switcher in the top right of the Synopsis frame (the little orange graphic with double arrows next to it in the screenshot below), then drag your image into the black image area where you can see the phrase “Drag an image file”:

image-drop

To insert a photo inline with the text of your sketch, first click where you want the photo, and then go to Edit > Insert > Image from File…

You can also drag and drop photos into the Editor to accomplish the same task.

Individual Character Sketches

Here’s a screenshot of an individual sketch of one of my characters:

character-sketch-default [crop]

This sketch was created using the Character Sketch Template Sheet that comes with Scrivener. I’ve since abandoned Scrivener’s defaults in favor of my own compilation, which follows.

An Alternative Character Sketch Template

As you learn more about character sketches, you’ll probably want to customize your character sketch template and make it your own. Personally, I find Scrivener’s default sketch sheets superficial. When sketching characters, I like less structure and fewer prescriptive fields concerning the character’s physical appearance and personality.

This is my preferred character sketch, the same one I include in my No Nonsense Novel Template. Here’s what it looks like in Scrivener:

alt-sketch-in-scriv [crop]

And here’s the full text, which you can feel free to use or modify as you see fit:

[photo]

FULL NAME

One Sentence Synopsis

This character in a single sentence.

Summary

This is a paragraph summary of your character. Include physical attributes, habits, mannerisms. Sketch your character.

Motivations & Goals

What do they want?

Conflicts

What makes them human?

Narrative

What happens to them in the story? What else is important?

Why Character Sketches Work

There are practical reasons to do character sketches. For one, developing characters is a process. Starting with character sketches is a great way to give the gel of your ideas time and space to set.

Yes, they’re extra effort, and yes, they can be difficult. But that’s part of the process.

If you feel like you really know the character and are ready to move on, run through this checklist to double check your work:

  1. What is your character’s primary motivation?
  2. How does your character change through the course of the story?
  3. What does your character look like?
  4. How does your character act around their parents? Their friends? Their boss?
  5. How does your character respond under stress?
  6. What is your character’s weakness, their kryptonite?
  7. What will your character die for?
  8. What is your character’s biggest hypocrisy?
  9. Who are your character’s friends?

If you can answer all of these questions with confidence, congratulations, you’re ready for setting sketches, which are covered in the next section.

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About Matt Herron

Matt Herron is the author of Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Practice. He has a degree in English Literature, a dog named Elsa, and an adrenaline addiction sated by rock climbing and travel. The best way to get in touch with him is on Twitter @mgherron.

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