3 Basic Steps to a Character Sketch

Have an idea for a story but need a star character? Here are three basic steps to building your character sketch with bonus material to help you out in the process:
  1. Finding Your Character
  2. Finding Your Character’s NameJennifer Lawrence, Entertainment Weekly, May 27, 2011
  3. Making Your Character Real

Let’s look at how Suzanne Collins did this for her title character, Katniss Aberdeen, in the novel The Hunger Games.

Character Sources

There are four sources from which you can find a character.

Four Sources for Character

Collins got the idea for her character from the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in which Athens had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete every year where they were devoured by the half-man, half-bull creature. Then one year Theseus went with the youths and maidens and destroyed the Minotaur. Collins has said that Katniss is like a futuristic Theseus.

After you find your character, it’s time to give him or her a name.

Character Names

There are also four sources from which you can find a character name.

Four Sources for Character Names

Katniss is one of the few names explained in
the novel. In a flashback scene with herSagittarius, the Archer father, Katniss is told that her name is from a flower with nourishing roots, is also known as “arrowhead,” and belongs to the genus Sagittaria. The genus name comes from the constellation, Sagittarius, an archer, which also fits Katniss’ impressive bow-and-arrow skills.

One of my favorite places to find names is an online source, 20,000+ Names From Around the World. The names are categorized by country,
language, and meaning, which can really inspire a character’s personality.

The last step in this basic process is making your character real. If you have a story idea already, you may know where the story is taking place or have a thought about the conflict involved. If not, this is the next step.

Real Characters

You want to make the character seem like a real person, but you need three parts to fit together. These are:

  • Setting
  • Conflict
  • Motivation

Setting

The character must exist somewhere, which is the place and time of your story. In The Hunger Games, the setting place was Panem (North America) and the setting time was the future.

Conflict

The character must have a problem to work through, which is the conflict of your story. Conflict is the struggle between opposing forces. After volunteering to take her sister’s place in The Hunger Games, Katniss has to learn to survive inside the arena against other children.

Motivation

The character must have some inner motivation, some goal he or she wants from life. A character’s motivation is usually that which propels him or her into the story’s conflict. In The Hunger Games, Katniss’ motivation is to make sure her family survives—has daily food and water and stays safe. This same motivation is what compels her to volunteer in place of her sister. Katniss wants to keep her sister safe.

Now that you have an idea of how to start a basic character sketch, let’s do one!
  1. Download the worksheet, Character Sketch.
  2. Find a picture—a stranger, a movie star, a family member, a friend—and add it to the worksheet.
  3. Find a name. Look at name and baby name sites online or open a phone book and choose a name.
  4. Now decide on your setting, conflict, and motivation. If you want help choosing either the setting or conflict, click on any one picture under each heading below to find a random element. For motivation, try to think of common things like fame, fortune, greed, envy, security, etc.
Setting – Time
Setting (Time) - Anniversary Setting (Time) - Evening Setting (Time) - New Year's Eve Setting (Time) - Winter
Setting – Place
Setting (Place) - Sauna Setting (Place) - Art Gallery Setting (Place) - Airplane Setting (Place) - A Checkout Counter
Conflict
Slide16 Slide19 Slide20 Slide21
Here is an example of my character sketch:
Example Character Sketch

Now it’s your turn!

And remember, your character sketch is just a starting point, so once you’re done, begin writing your story! Also, if you would like an objective set of eyes to look at your writing, try my Just Editing & Writing Critique services where you’re guaranteed to receive an honest review of your work.

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