Creating Your Character Catalog
You’ve settled on the plot for your book. Details of the story materialize before your eyes. You open a journal or a black page on your laptop. Your fingers fly across the keyboard trying to keep pace with your stream of consciousness.
You see steam drifting up from a chipped ceramic bluish-grey mug seated atop the battered pine table. Your writerly six sense imagines a Chamomile teabag steeping in the cup, filling the kitchen with its sweetness. The yellow gingham curtains dance to and fro on the breeze. Wheels crunching on the gravel drive echo in the distance. Long slender fingers strum the side of the mug.
Two hours later you break for a stretch, wander into the kitchen to brew a pot of French Roast. You take a walk around the house and start a conversation with yourself. The house is quiet bar the dripping of coffee and the sound of your voice.
It’s an early spring morning. The house is on a farm. No make it a seaside town. California? Where? Mendocino. The dead body is on the floor in the living room. The gun is sitting on the bottom step of the staircase. POV? Third? Nope, this story must be told in the first person. The main character is Married? Divorced? Widowed? Does what for a living?
All good questions for which there is no answer because you’ve not worked out the identity of your main character.
My writing process doesn’t allow me to start gathering facts until I know who is telling the story. The novel I am editing sat inside my head until I found my characters. I don’t need chapter and verse on their past lives, but the basics are required. It takes time to build the history of your heroine. Filling our character sheets is tedious and can limit your imagination.
Building and maintaining a character catalog is fast, easy, and a good way to exercise your writer’s mental muscles. Think of it as Sudoku for writers. Best of all it doesn’t force you to complete a two-page questionnaire, or spend hours scouring the internet for ideas, or read through lists of traits. At some point the details are needed, but not right away. (Sorry, nothing worth writing comes easy.)
How to create your character catalog
I recommend a journal of some sort. My preferred tool is OneNote. It’s intuitive, it’s a free app, and can be used anywhere, even on your smartphone. You can use a moleskin, a three-ringer binder, or a leather-bound journal with creamy-white pages. Your choice.
Each page of your journal is devoted one character. Write out four characteristics
The fourth is contrary to first three. It’s a trait or detail that gives your character dimension or inner conflict. Keep your characteristics short. Don’t over think it, or spend too much time on the exercise. If you’re prone to over analyzing, set a timer.
Here are some examples:
- Good with numbers
- Serial Killer
- Plays the guitar
- Son of Famous Ballet dancer
You can add pictures, too. Pinterest is a writer’s haven. Photographer’s websites, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
You can start your list with a name or add one in later.
- Grade school teacher
- Soccer Mom
- Creates elaborate fantasies to kill the room mothers
- Internet Minster with a website
- Scars on face and upper body from knife fights
Have fun with the exercise. If you’re stuck with the WIP, take a break and create a sidekick for your protagonist.
Share one below in the comments or how you create the characters in your stories.