A piece of writing doesn’t always need characters, but in fictional stories characters bring reality and accessibility to the plot, and its important that they embody everything they need to in order to bring your ideas to life. Here is a rubric to fill out that will help you build an original character or reconstruct an old one. Feel free to let us know what you think of it by commenting on this post or emailing Inspired Ink, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is where you decide what your character is going to look like and how you’re going to describe that to the reader. If you are an illustrator, it never hurts to sketch out what you envision this individual will look like. If you are creating a non-human character, a Google Image search is helpful, and you can trace features from realistic and mythical beings onto computer paper using light through a windowpane, to form a conglomerate creature. For human characters, specially a family of human characters, try modeling their faces using an iPhone Memoji app. Below is a list of features that readers might want to know about, but you know your story, and if something seems excessive or unimportant to your character, then it doesn’t need explanation. This can also be useful when describing a real person for a memoir or nonfiction piece.
Hair: This involves not just natural and cosmetic coloration, but texture, volume and length. Do they style or alter their hair, and if so, how does it appear in public vs. in private?
Facial features: Eye color, size of nose and ears, presence of freckles, use of makeup, piercings, wrinkles, braces/teeth aligners, coloration of teeth, hairline, rosiness of cheeks, and placement of facial features are all things to consider.
Body type: Is your character tall or short, plump or skinny, or of average height and weight? Are they muscular? What color is their skin, or if they are not human, what takes the place of skin? Does this person look healthy at first glance, and what leads you to that conclusion?
Age: Is your character’s age evident from their body type, or do they appear older or younger than they really are? Do they have an unsteady gait and sagging skin, or are they still loosing baby teeth?
Choice of clothing: Generally speaking, however, what is your character’s uniform? Do they tend to wear dark colors or light? Baggy or tight fitted clothing? Traditional or unorthodox? Even if your character does not care about fashion, their choice of clothing could clue the reader in to aspects of the character’s personality. Does your character have a special article of clothing that they wear all the time? Think of your favorite tv show characters- what does what they wear say about them?
Physical Abnormalities: Sometimes a character’s charm comes from their imperfections. If this person was to walk past you on the boulevard what would you notice about them? Do they have a limp, a birthmark, a navigation or mobility aid? Are they doing, saying, or wearing something those around them are not?
Preferences: Not all of these will be relevant to the story you want to tell, but thinking about them can’t hurt! What is your character’s favorite color? Food? Music artist? Political party? By going through their preferences you might decide on what is important to your character and what is not. It could be that your character is an alien who doesn’t eat food, but is obsessed with the Beatles or a regular human who knows anything about politics but they love French patisserie. Mentioning likes and dislikes can also be a way for readers to connect with your character. Another fun exercise is imagining what your character would keep in their pockets (assuming they have pockets).
Wants: This is definitely something that will help your story! With their likes and dislikes in mind, try to create an outline of what your character desires most and what they could do to attain that. In doing this you might get a clearer sense of the plot. Sometimes what a character wants is not very clear, so maybe your character doesn’t know what they want, or they want too many things, or they have everything they want. If it is abundantly clear to you what your character wants, hypothesize as to why they want that. All this is is something to think about, it certainly does not need to be solidified before you start on an adventure with your character. Most wants change over the course of a story anyway.
Attitude: Is your character a glass-half-full sort of individual or are they a staunch pessimist? Are they compassionate or egocentric? Try writing out some dialogue your character has with a pharmacist or receptionist. Does your character speak tersely or are they nice and chatty?
Characteristics: Think of some adjectives that would suit your character. For example, if one was to describe Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” in a few words, they might say comical, adventurous, unwashed, stubborn, and brave. What do you think people would say about your character?
Family: Not all characters need a family, or family history if the family is not part of the story, but it is sometimes nice to get a sense of where your character came from and who they were raised by. Sometimes family is easy to get carried away with, and if you’re interested in charting family trees you might want to check out ‘Family Echo,’ a family tree making site that can not only map your real family, but any imaginary ones you want to see graphed out. Siblings, parents, cousins, even pets, can all become characters in their own right, and if you struggle with bringing them to life just scroll to the top of this page and start from square one.
Religion: This can take center stage in the lives of some characters and their stories, and be completely absent from others, and like everything in this post it is completely up to you! If you character needs a little extra something, it might be worthwhile to look into avenues of faith. Religious upbringing makes for great backstories, reflections and recollections, because biblical tales are often told to children, and your character might draw upon those early stories while living out the one you write for them. If you have a spiritual side, this is also a great way to insert yourself into your story and add some things that are important to you. Religion is often tied into culture as well, so if faith is a bit too strong, think of some other kinds of traditions that might be important to your character and help shape their other traits.
Don’t get too hung up on names! Of course if you spend so much time thinking up everything about your character you want them to have the best name possible, one that suits them but isn’t too cliche or will give the readers an incorrect idea about them. But, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Your character will be what you want them to be, whether their name means something or not! Then again, having a cool name can give a different shape to your character, there are plenty of popular characters that were created off a name alone.