Fiction Writing Character Outline: Creating Real People

Creating realistic people in your novel can be challenging. A fiction writing character outline is a great way to get deep inside the minds of your characters so you know them as well as you know yourself. That's what makes them real.

But just how do you go about getting to know a figment of your imagination?

Interviewing For A Part

I keep a file with character backgrounds handy when I'm writing about them. At least until I know them well enough not to need such reference anymore. But coming up with a fiction writing character outline for each of my main players can take a little doing. So sometimes, I have to "interview" them.

Just like a job interview, I "ask" questions. What's your name? How old are you? When and where were you born? Who are your parents? Your siblings? Where do you work? Where did you work before that?

Sometimes, my characters in fiction writing balk at the interrogation. If I can't seem to figure them out, I switch to writing a scene about them, or some background events. Even a bit of dialogue may help.

Like it or not, they usually reveal themselves to me eventually. I just have to keep digging and prodding until they give in.

Getting to Know You

So, what should you include in every fiction writing character outline, no matter how minor the fictional character might be?

Well, for starters, the person's name seems important, right? And gender? I also generally figure out basic physical characteristics like height, build, eye and hair color, so even my walk-on characters can be described enough to pass roll-call.

Most of the time, I also need to know at least the approximate age of the character, no matter how minor, since this may have a bearing on how they act and talk. Or even who they talk to.

Unless there's an important reason for other notes on these smallest players, that's all I ask them.

But what about those with more important roles in your novels?

Getting to Know All About You

Depending on how important the characters are in my plot, I add more characterization information about them. The minor characters usually include a sketch of their family, such as parents, siblings, spouses and children. If it matters, I also include their heritage, maybe what language or languages they speak.

For every minor fiction writing character outline, I also include space to jot down where they live, what they do for a living, a little about how they act, speak and dress, and any other history or notes that seems pertinent to know for the part they play in my novel.

That's usually enough for these characters (although I have a few of these who just won't shut up, and I know more about them than I'll ever use!). Don't go overboard with characters who won't be included in a majority of your scenes or you'll make your brain explode.

But do go deep enough for these characters to be realistic. They have the important role of supporting your main characters, so you shouldn't slight them.

Getting Really Personal

With my main players, I get more personal (heh, heh, heh...).

Yeah, sometimes I ask them embarrassing questions. I certainly ask a lot more than I do of my other characters. Otherwise, I'll never know how they'd react in specific situations. And since these are my potential point of view characters, I need to know this much.

For example, my main fiction writing character outline includes all of the above notes plus lists of their friends, more distant relatives (if important to the story), pets, likes and dislikes, everywhere they've lived, all the jobs they've had, where they went to school and for how long, whether or not they were (or are) in the military.

That's not all. I delve into their beliefs, their dreams and goals, their hobbies. I make them show me their strengths and weaknesses, their tastes, their personality, their fears. Then I ask them to tell me their most embarrassing memory.

If it's pertinent to the novel, I'll also make notes about their sex lives (told you I get personal). And I generally include notes about their saddest and happiest memories, to go with that embarrassing one.

Last, I jot any other notes that might matter to the novel I'm creating. For instance, in my fantasy series, many of my characters have mind-power of some sort or another. So I have a place to note what powers they possess.

By this time, they may seem like your best friends. That's good. They're supposed to be so believable everyone thinks they can converse in the real world with them.

So dig deep with your characters. Getting to know them well will make it a breeze to write their story.

Keeping Characters in Line

If you've got very many characters (or even just a few) you should keep notes handy for referring to. But how to you organize all these people suddenly inhabiting your head?

With a database or spreadsheet.

Once it's done, I take each fiction writing character outline and input the most pertinent data into my permanent files on the novel or series. Names, birthdates, physical descriptions and most important notes go into this database.

That way, when I come to a scene that needs to specify how old one of my characters is (or was) at a specific time, I can look it up quickly, if I've forgotten. And I don't accidentally change someone's eye color halfway through a book, either.

So however you keep notes, organize them into folders, files or something for easy reference. You'll thank yourself in the long run.

I hope these tips have helped you get to know your characters better. To help even more, I've created a main character outline and a minor character sketch you can download. Use these to jump start your character list for your next novel.

Or use them to create your own fiction writing character outline that lists what you need to know about your characters. Just remember to keep them organized.

Here's to all your newfound "friends"!

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