As I told you in the part 1 of this series, character bibles are used to define the story’s main characters during the pre-writing stage. These sketches must be as detailed as possible. In this way, you’ll be clear about your characters’ appearance, peculiarities, virtues, shortcomings, customs, relationships, etc. Think about actors and actresses who must be very familiar with the characters they play in order to make a good performance. A writer who gathers information about a character faces a similar job.
Feel free to create the type of character sketch that best suits you. If you don’t know where to start, you can use the character sketch outline that I use for my stories. In my opinion, this document covers the most important points of a sketch. Let’s take a closer look at them:
As I stated in the first part of this series, the short character sketches can be used as writing prompts or as a prewriting strategy. Don’t be too exhaustive; it’s enough to just jot down a few general notes on your characters in order to know at a glance what is unique about each of them.
To illustrate this, let me show you how I have designed my own character sketches:
1. Sketch Number
To start with, I like to organize my sketches by number and add their creation date. I also like to make note of what story they belong (or could belong) to.
There are many ways to write a story, and as a writer, you must find the system that best suits you. You may be a plotter who likes to create an outline before you sit down to write your novel, or you might prefer to leave more room for imagination. Nevertheless, in both cases, it is convenient to know your characters in depth. In this section, you’ll discover how to do this with a character sketch.
Character sketches are, so to speak, the characters’ biography or CV. They can take many forms, but they are usually divided into two groups according to their purpose:
Depending on the type of story you are writing, your dialogues will be subject to different standards. Getting acquainted with them will save you many headaches.
1. The Film and TV Script
TThis is one of the most rigid formats as it is a technical document used by film crews in order to develop the final product. The dialogue will be center-aligned. The speaking character’s name will be capitalized, the stage directions (if any) will appear just below the name, and the lines of dialogue will be at the bottom. Here’s an example:
In many cultures, it is believed that a person’s name contains his/her essence. From a practical viewpoint, this may sound like an exaggeration, but it makes sense when we are talking about fictional names. For example, how different would it have turned out if Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes had been called Sherrinford Holmes as the author had originally planned?
Every name has different connotations for each of us because they remind us of different people; thus, it’s impossible to foresee the effect names will have on your readers. Nevertheless, here are some steps you can take to find names that best suit your characters:
Whether real or fantasy, human or animal, characters are part of every story. That’s why it’s very important for your words to breathe life into them. It’s up to you to make sure they are perceived as real by your readers, but how is this done?
You can always resort to a third-person narrator in order to describe your characters, but that’s not enough sometimes. If you want to create lively characters, there are six more effective ways to do so without using a narrator. Let’s analyze them one by one:
In this part of the tutorial about the types of narrators, I’ll analyze the first-person narrator which is the one widely used in contemporary literature. What distinguishes him from the witness narrator, who also resorts to the first person, is the fact that this narrator is the protagonist talking about himself (or herself) and his circumstances. There are quite a lot of first-person novels. Paul Auster’s Moon Palace and Oracle Night, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, or Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck’s Report are well-known examples.
In addition, the first-person narrator is often used in crime fiction. This is the case of in the novels written by Jeff Lindsay about the serial killer Dexter. Nevertheless, we can also find this type of narrator in the epistolary genre, personal diaries, biographies, internal monologues, etc. Regardless of the literary genre, here are some general features that can help us determine if the first-person narrator fits our story:
TThe second-person narrator, though not very common, is present in literature and media. For example, the posts I publish online are directed at my readers. This is why I resort to the second-person narrator.
This type of narrator is also typical of the epistolary form; in fact, many novels contain letters or emails the characters send to each other. Nevertheless, the addressee of the second-person narrations I want to analyze in this section are not characters, but the readers themselves.
For instance, in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, the second-person narrator acts as the master in a role-playing game attempting to get the reader to identify with the main character. A much more recent example is Paul Auster’s Winter Journal. This fictionalized autobiography is written in the second person as a way of putting the reader in the writer’s shoes. Through this technique, the author wants to show the emotions and experiences he has gathered throughout his life could be those of any other person in the world. The opening line of the book is a clear declaration of intent:
In the first page of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, the narrator makes a declaration of intent: “I prepare to leave on this parchment my testimony as to the wondrous and terrible events that I happened to observe in my youth, now repeating all that I saw and heard, without venturing to seek a design, as if to leave to those who will come after (if the Antichrist has not come first) signs of signs, so that the prayer of deciphering may be exercised on them.”
You just read the words of a witness narrator which is a role played by a character who tells the story in the third person (he isn’t the protagonist) and has the point of view of someone who has witnessed it either from the inside or from the outside. This type of narrator doesn’t usually write about himself or herself.
There are many different types of witness narrators, each with his distinctive features. Here are the most common ones: