The most important thing in any story is character. If you know your characters well enough, they’ll tell the story for you. Good characters can even save a bad plot. This is why it’s important to put together character sketches of each major character. Again, Feature Filmmaking At Used Car Prices informed a lot of what I put together here though a lot of it is my own as well.
It’s fairly simple and gives you a good idea of what kind of character you’re dealing with. You should do this with every major character in your story. Most of this stuff probably won’t even make it into the story but having the character background makes it easier to figure out how your character will behave in any given setting.
Character Name and Age
Physically: This is mostly self-explanatory. What does your character look like? Do they drink or do drugs? Do they exercise?
Family Background: Are they an only child? Do they come from a broken home? Did their father beat them? Were they treated like royalty? What was their childhood like?
Education: How did they do in school? Did they like it? What was their favorite class? Did they play sports? Did they go to college? What kind of school was it? Were they popular?
Social Life: Do they have a lot of friends? Do they go out drinking? What kind of places do they like to go to? Do they have parties? Have they had sex? Do they go out with anyone? In short, what do they do with their lives?
Work History: Where do they work? How long have they worked there? Where did they work before that? Do they like their job? Is it a career job or something just to get by?
So you know what they look like, what kind of family they have, how educated they are, what sort of friends they have, and what their job is like. Now it’s time to make this character just a little more real.
Hobbies: Do they collect comics books? Do they knit? Play chess? Gamble? Not only does this help round out the character but if you need the character to be doing something, you have something.
Habits: Do they chew their nails? Drive fast? If they switched bodies with someone what would be the give away that of who they really are?
Phobias: What is your character genuinely afraid of. It can be something as silly as spiders or as universal as death. Knowing their fears will help you really get inside their head.
You don’t have to answer all of these questions, but you get the idea. Below is a character sketch I put together for a project that was never completed. It should give you a good idea of what works. Remember, what you want to do is create a character sketch that is good enough that you can imagine this character in any situation and know what they would do.
Amber. Age: 19
Physically: 5’ 4”, short spikey blonde hair, thin, but not anorexic. She jogs with her best friend, Jenny, but not often. She drinks and smokes occasionally and smokes pot on a regular basis. She has also used ecstasy, and LSD before, but it is not a regular occurrence.
Family Background: Amber grew up being raised by her grandparents. Her mother had her when she was very young and simply couldn’t handle the stress. Amber doesn’t know who her father is. Amber’s grandparents adopted her. Her mother married some guy in the Air Force and lives in Germany with him. Amber has seen her mother four times in the past ten years. Amber has always had a bit of a disconnected feeling towards her grandparents. They have never been very close. More recently, this distance has grown and Amber tends to spend her time on the first floor while her grandparents stay on the second. They still care for her, but they don’t understand her and have given up trying to understand. She is now someone they claim to love, but actually simply tolerate.
Education: Amber has never been the best student. She’s always been far too social for that, looking for a connection she can’t find at home. She was popular and high school and made a lot of friends. She graduated with a C average and last year took a couple of community college classes, but then dropped them because they were ‘boring’.
Social Life: Amber is one of those people who seem to know everyone. She’s the sort of person that could go to any club in the city and find someone she knows. She’s also known for being more than a little ‘easy’. Amber has never been too secure with herself and quickly found that sex was a good way to be liked. She lost her virginity when she was 13 and has lost count of how many guys she’s been with since then. She tells people ‘nine’, but knows the number is closer to thirty. Jenny Shepard is her closest friend. She met Jenny at a New Year’s Eve party last year. Jenny helped get her a job at Demaro’s with her. Amber does not like Jenny’s boyfriend, Jesse and thinks he’s a manipulative abusive fuck. She often tries to convince Jenny to leave him. She met up with her current boyfriend, Darrick at a club about four months ago. They ended up having sex in the parking lot. He is what she has always wanted: someone who loves her….at least that’s how she sees it.
Work History: Amber does not have a strong work ethic, but her grandparents made her take a job when she was sixteen at a restaurant one of their friends owned. She quit after a couple of months. This was one of the things that drove a larger wedge between her and her grandparents. When she quit college last September, her grandparents decided to continue letting her live with them, but they refused to help her in any way financially. Amber quickly learned how much she relied on her grandparents and was forced to get a job. She talks of one day moving out of her grandparent’s house, but has never done anything to make that happen.
Hobbies: Amber has a collection of salt and pepper shakers. It’s something she once heard her mom did. She buys them at garage sales and whatnot. The stranger set, the better.
Habits: Like a lot of girls, when she was younger, Amber would cut herself. She eventually got over that. Now her only significant habit is smoking joints. She’s very particular about it. She won’t use a bong or a vaporizer and likes to roll her own.
Phobias: Amber is afraid of isolation. She’s never gone more than a couple hours without some sort of contact with other people, whether it was in person, a phone call, or a text.