I love templates for the same reason I loved standard operating procedures when I was stuck in an office – they’re a way of making sure you don’t forget important details. Sure, you might need to deviate from them from time to time, but well made structures can help with anything, even the art of writing.
When I’m writing the flash stories that appear here every Friday, I tend to only use a single plot template. Using a load of different tools for such a short story would be overkill. But when I’m writing a novel or the longer sort of short story, my desire for structure really goes to town, with all sorts of checklists and templates.
Given that a lot of my readers are also writers, I thought it might be useful to share one or two of these. So below is the checklist I use when trying to create a well developed character. I’ve added notes where I felt they’d help. Feel free to use it as you see fit, to let me know if you find it helpful, and to point out anything you think would be worth adding. Like any good process, this is a work in progress, and there’s always room to get better.
Andrew’s Character Template, version 1.2
Concept – what is the core idea for this character? communist inventor? Buddhist adventurer? king of the whales?
Thematic link – how they connect to the theme of my story
Arc – how are they going to change over the course of the story?
Symbol – is there a particular thing that symbolises them within the story? for example, in one novel I’m working on the male lead is connected to blood and the female to fire.
Voice – how they talk, especially distinctive words and sentence structures I can use.
Grounding foibles – a little whimsical interest makes even the most grand of characters more relatable.
Story goal – what are they trying to achieve on the surface?
Deeper drive – what’s the deeper drive, perhaps never explicitly stated, that pushes them on? even ink and paper people deserve a subconscious.
Competence, proactivity and sympathy – which of these are they weaker and stronger in? in what way? a character who lacks all of them is unappealing, one who’s strong in them all becomes too flawlessly good (I stole this idea from a Writing Excuses episode)
Fundamental weakness – the one that runs deepest and causes them the most problems.
Flaws / faults
Response to pain – borrowed from someone I worked with on a ghostwriting project, this can be very telling about the character – when they’re hurt, physically or mentally, do they run, hide, fight back, try not to let it show?
Desire for survival affecting choices – this and the following four are borrowed from choice theory – how do these psychological drivers affect the character’s behaviour? which make the most difference? how do they come into conflict?
Desire for power affecting choices
Desire for freedom affecting choices
Desire for love & belonging affecting choices
Desire for fun & learning affecting choices
Conflicting characteristics – because internal conflict is interesting, and real people aren’t entirely consistent.
Family – who, where, etc.
What do they think makes them unique? – we all think we’re special in some way, and what we think we’re great at isn’t always the reality – another little detail to make the character more real.