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Crafting Characters with Character Sheet Templates

Characters are the soul of a narrative.

Beyond archetypes, protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains, well-drawn, nuanced characters can transform a simple narrative into a multi-layered story that resonates with readers long after they turn the final page.

Written by
  • Rex Mizrach
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The art of authenticity

Anyone who has ever become deeply invested in a book, a series or IP, knows that a character's complexity and authenticity draws us in, transforming words into people worth knowing.

Every reader remembers the first character who felt true, who felt real to them. Characters who inspired love or hate or a sense of identity; who seemed as multifaceted as a friend, frenemy, or mentor; who made us cry or surprised us at the eleventh hour with a heel-turn that we never saw coming.

... Of course, for writers, that's one of the hardest things to achieve.

But there’s a great tool that can make character creation and depth easier (and a lot more fun).

What is a character sheet?

A character sheet is a questionnaire designed to flesh out a character's traits, preferences, and personality, probing into their background and psyche to help evolve character and plot. They can be fantastic brainstorming tools to explore "what if" scenarios, ensure consistency and coherence across a narrative, or enhance the story's believability.

Character sheets can include basics like background, traits, motivations, age, and appearance, alongside deeper questions designed to uncover hidden emotions and inner secrets. Questions can be as broad or as granular and particular as the story itself: What’s in your character’s pockets? What would be their last meal if they faced the firing squad? Who is their most hated co-worker? Who was their first love?

Why do writers use character sheets?

Character sheets are more than just record-keeping; they can be instrumental in creating compelling narratives, with details that add depth to relationships, conflicts, and plot developments, enriching the story with twists and turns that mirror a character’s emotional state. And can also ensure the distinctiveness of each character's voice and help avoid cliches, helping to craft a diverse, unique cast.

While archetypes can serve as foundational blueprints for characters, relying on them alone can lead to predictability. Tropes used creatively can subvert readers’ expectations, but the real challenge lies in transforming these elements to create fresh, engaging, and multi-dimensional characters. Psychological realism relies on true-to-life details and character knowledge—behaviors, decisions, and emotional responses that are convincingly real and relatable, with personal histories to influence their actions and growth throughout. The secrets they keep and the personal struggles they face can coalesce to lead to fascinating revelations and arcs that deeply resonate with readers.

Meet your characters

Rich, well-developed characters lead to richer interactions, conflicts, love stories, myths. When you fill out a character sheet, unexpected details will find a way to bleed into the story once you set your characters loose—one question’s answer could inspire you to take the character in a totally new direction, or prompt you to write a full scene about some aspect you’d never considered. A memorable childhood experience might explain their reluctance to trust others, while a lost, treasured object could become a pivotal plot point. Sometimes the smallest details can prompt a torrent of info.

Believe it or not, your character is a fully-fledged human (or creature, or entity)—even if you don’t know them yet.

Consider a character sheet your first introduction. Try role-playing your questions—what if you met them by chance at a coffee shop and observed their interaction style, gestures, and quirks? What if you were an investigative journalist, digging into their shadowed past? What if you were their therapist? Think of the sheet as an interview, and you the interviewer—the character can respond in their own words for an extra dose of personality. Approach the process with an open mind, allowing your characters to surprise you.

To help you get started, we’ve provided a comprehensive character sheet template. The prompts are designed to guide you through the process of character creation, from basic details to deeper psychological insights.

Whether you're starting something new or deepening your understanding of existing characters, feel free to tailor the questions to your project. You can skip any irrelevant questions or add ones that align with the story you want to tell. Use the sheet to ask probing questions, explore hypothetical scenarios, and uncover hidden facets of your characters’ personalities. So check out the template and let your creativity flow—your characters are waiting to be discovered.

Check out our full character sheet here!

Exploring the fundamental aspects of your character lays the foundation for their development—their age, birthplace, identity, status, etc., can reveal a lot about who they are and where they come from.

  • Name (aliases, nicknames, etc.)
  • Age
  • Place of birth
  • Occupation(s) or specialties
  • Socioeconomic status

A character’s physical presence can illuminate their inner world. Your aim is to paint a vivid picture of them—for yourself and the reader. Consider what their defining features say about their character—do they have smile lines, or a righteous RBF? Their height, build, and body type can contribute to how they’re perceived in the world, and how they perceive themselves. Think of their personal style; how their chosen attire and accessories reflects their personality or status, along with any other visual elements that make them unique.

  • Defining facial features
  • Height, build, body type
  • Style
  • Dress
  • Other visual features

Personality is the heart of your character, and a multifaceted, complex personality will read relatable and authentic. Consider how your character’s defining traits originated, and how they may have evolved over time. Assess their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their flaws (everyone has a few!). Explore their hopes and dreams, outlining the steps they’re taking to achieve them and any obstacles they might face on their journey.

  • Defining traits
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Flaws
  • Hopes and dreams
  • Tastes and preferences

Think about the bonds that have shaped their personality, and the influence that others have had on their growth—parents, close friends, mentors, etc. Consider their allies and enemies, and how their choices might have contributed to allegiances or resentments. Reflect on past and current love interests, viewing them through your character’s eyes (or, for a fun experiment, imagine how those partners might view your character).

  • Family or guardians
  • Friends and acquaintances
  • Allies and enemies
  • Past and current partners or love interests
  • Mentors and confidants

Your character's background provides context for their actions and development. Consider their upbringing and how these early experiences molded them, and what formative memories might stand out vividly, leaving a lasting impact. Consider the events that redirected their path or influenced their personality and decisions, creating dynamic and believable motivations.

  • Upbringing or parenting style
  • Formative memories
  • Education and interests
  • Major life events
  • Successes and failures

Finally, define your character’s core motivations—what drives their actions and tells their personal story. Define their goals, both short and long-term; explore their internal conflicts and how these struggles manifest in their behavior. Reflect on what they’re proud of, and their ultimate regrets. Everyone has insecurities and concealed secrets, large or small—so dig deep into what they are trying to hide (and why).

  • Goals
  • Internal conflicts
  • What are they trying to hide?
  • What are they proud of?
  • What do they regret?
Check out our full character sheet here!

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