One of the many preparatory steps I’m taking for the upcoming New Project (Nothing to Do with the Trilogy, Honest) is thinking about new characters. Of the two projects I have on deck, I’ve decided that I’d like to know more about the characters ahead of time, before I get any actual writing done.
I’ve done this before with the trilogy, but for the most part they were in my head. Considering I pretty much knew a lot about them by the time I wrote the three books, I could get away with that. However, these new projects are different. I’d rather not wing it this time. [I mean, I can if I have to…but I’d rather not.]
In this instance I’ll be creating character sheets. Nothing too detailed or intensive, just enough for me to use as reference. I’ve seen many webcomic artists do this; they’ll have an image folder or scrapbook that will have the basic character designs, but will also include fashion photograhy and color palettes (personal styles), celebrity casting (what they look like, facial expressions, different angles, etc), unique physical attributes (hair, piercings, etc), and so on. I did something similar to this for some of my trilogy characters, adding things like their birthdays, current addresses, and so on. I rarely had to pull them out for reference, but they were good to have on hand just in case I’d erred in description somewhere.
I also usually add a map or two as well. I drew a basic layout of Bridgetown early on for reference and it came in quite handy multiple times. I will most likely do the same for one of the two upcoming projects.
It does sound like I’m purposely limiting the amount of pre-work I do. It’s true, I don’t like to give my outlines all that much detail, at least not on a long-term basis. Just enough so I know what to write within the next three or four chapters and a vague idea of the direction of the novel as a whole. The same goes with the characters; the most I’ll do is create a character sheet that will remind me of the basics so I can remain consistent. Essentially, something I can anchor the character to.
There are numerous books and articles out there suggesting how to create characters with depth, and I’ve read many of them. They all have great ideas that will help you create a better novel. I’ve always tended to uses these suggestions as a baseline rather than concrete directions, and that’s worked just fine. There’s no right way to do it other than whatever works for you.