On Character Sheets.
Written by
L. A. Howard
March 2011
Written by
L. A. Howard
March 2011

Today I was introduced to the idea of using Character Sheets to flesh out my characters.


Two things came to mind when I saw one someone had graciously posted for others to look at.  


"Huh, that reminds me of D&D."


"My characters reveal themselves like any real person does:  slowly, and a little at a time.  Will this really help develop them with my style of writing?"


The D&D thing refers to the infamous tabletop game incorrectly declared by Dr. James Dobson as "demonic"...Dungeons and Dragons.


If a bunch of geeky kids getting together to tell a story is demonic, then so is writing fictional stories.  But, I digress.


In Dungeons and Dragons, there are elaborate character sheets that list such things as a character's name, personality, looks, race, special abilities, occupation [which is called a "class" in RPG circles], and so on and so forth.  They go into great detail about exactly how much magic or special abilities the character can use, when he can use them, and so on.


The character sheet I saw today was no less detailed.  Only instead of tallying up what a 20-sided die would have to land on in order for me to pull off an incredibly awesome move [like shooting five arrows at the same time], it just talks about personality details.  To.  The.  Letter.


On the one hand, I can *definitely* see the usefulness in something like that; it really makes one sit down and think about what one's character is all about before proceeding to write about them.


The problem with it for me is similar to my problem in geometry; I'm not any good with proofs.  I can do the problem, I can even get all the answers right if you tell me what formula does what and ace the test...but I can't tell you how I got there.  I can't fully explain how I got from point A to point B.  


This isn't a boast, or meant as one; I'm just not very good at explaining things, or even following directions at times.  If you want me to drive you somewhere in town, I can probably get you there.  But if you ask me how to get there...well, I'll just tell you to look at Google maps and find your own way.  Or I'll give the phone to Husband, and have him explain it, because I'll just get you more lost.


That's what I encountered when trying to fill out this character sheet for one of my characters.  

What illnesses does she have?


Well, she has none; she's magic.


What was the duration of the illness?


She's not sick; she's NEVER been sick.


What was the nature of the illness?




What are her cognitive abilities?  Is she smart?  Sexy?  Beautiful?  Ugly?


These aren't questions I feel I can flush out on something so technical without putting it in story format first; I have an idea for some characters, and I just...start writing.  I've always...and I do mean ALWAYS...felt that any character I come up with isn't so much my creation as much as a new friend.  I feel like they want to TELL me who they are, rather than me commanding them on who they SHOULD be.


I'm not saying that I won't ever use character sheets; like I said, I think that they are a wonderfully useful tool.  But, for my more main characters...I just don't know.  


What's more, I've tried doing similar sheets before, but not nearly as organized.  And it would take a long, long time for me to do a sheet on every single character that has popped out of my brain over the years.  So, I guess I'm not sure how to see Character Sheets as rather useful in a grown-up writer sense, and less like homework from a hybrid of my high school math teacher, and my high school English teacher.


How do you look past things like character sheets, and see them as useful instead of necessary in a pass/fail sense?  Am I the only one who sees them this way?

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  • Mary J. Ingmire

    Character sheets - ACK!   I've tried variations and still am not sure I have something meaningful but may be getting closer.  I just bought Larry Brooks' Story Engineering and am using questions he asks about the character.  Instead of wondering what's in her refrigerator or the color of her socks, I use Brooks' 3 dimensions of character and the questions he asks at the end of chapter 15.  It's going to take some tweaking.