Some writers make character outlines before they start their novel, and others make them between the first draft and the editing process. But most writers will agree that outlines are needed to flesh out characters and keep the small details consistent. How else are we supposed to remember that John loves chocolate and Peter can’t stand the stuff?
But characters are a lot more than just their likes and dislikes– just like real people.
There are lots of ways to outline characters, and this is just my method. I’ve tweaked it and added various points over the past year, and now I’m pretty happy with how well it covers my characters. The base of the outline, I got from a writer’s meeting (unfortunately, I can’t remember who was speaking…), and then I built on it.
Since I write fantasy, I veered away from the typical character questionnaire that includes questions such as “What is your character’s favorite TV show?” I tried to analyze my characters at a deeper level and then address the superficial ramifications of their inner thoughts later. But this outline should work for any genre and not just fantasy.
I hope that, by showing you guys how I outline my characters, you start thinking and get inspired to delve deeper into your own characters’ thoughts!
(Character’s Full Name Goes Here)
Race: (If you are writing fantasy or sci-fi, “elf” or “alien” can go here, but make sure you are as specific as possible—what type of elf? If you aren’t writing fantasy, then you can probably skip it or put in the character’s heritage such as Irish, Mexican, Pakistani, etc.)
Birth: (Both the location and the exact date)
Place they were raised: (If it is multiple places, make sure you put the dates were they lived at each one)
Parentage: (Who are their parents? If relevant put a short description for each one)
Family: (Any siblings or close relatives who live with them, even if they don’t come into the story?)
Age at beginning of the novel: (Put their age here.)
Age at beginning of book 2: (If applicable, put their age at the beginning of the second book here, and keep going with these age questions until your last novel which you plan for the series to have.)
Personality Type: (I like to take an online personality test– typically the Myers Briggs– on behalf of my character. Not only does it force me to think through some really detailed questions about the character, but it also gives me a base to go from and build on. Here is the test which I use for my characters: http://www.16personalities.com/)
Description: (What does the character physically look like? And try to go beyond hair and eye color. How tall are they? What body type? What do they typically wear? How do they walk?)
Pre-book History: (What happened before the book started? This one can end up very long, but that is okay.)
Trauma: (You may not have this topic if you are writing a more lighthearted book, but I am a bit cruel to my characters…. so I have to have this. Either you can do some research on trauma, or you can think of it as “What haunts your character and is destroying them from the inside?”)
Goals: (This is a very important topic. I cannot stress enough how important this is! Every character has goals– even the bad guy and the minor characters.)
- External: (What are they outwardly working for? Are they on a quest? Do they want to take over a nation? Or perhaps, something smaller like making a new scientific discovery or finishing their log cabin before winter.)
- Internal: (What causes the external goal? Deep inside, what do they want? Perhaps it is friendship, to protect their family, to be honored, or something else.)
Motivation: (Why are they motivated to achieve their goal? Is it someone else or something inside the character which motivates them?)
What would break them?
(Muhahaha! This is where you have to put on your evil mastermind cloak and think about how to emotionally destroy your characters. Now, you may or may not have this happen in your novel, but it is a good idea to know nevertheless. What would completely “break” your character?)
- (Now I don’t like to think about the big, physical conflicts here– I have a plot outline for that!)
- (Instead, I like to put emotional or spiritual conflicts– minor and major)
- (Does you character struggle with self-worth or pride?)
- (Are they being bullied– or are they the bully? etc.)
- (Here are where all the little things from most questionnaires come in. A quirk is any meaningful specialty which makes the character unique.)
- (Perhaps your character has a physical habit like shove up their glass or twirling their fingers in their hair. Put it here)
- (What do they love? Include both big and small things)
- (What do they hate? Again include minor annoyances and bigger things)
- (Or if they have a physical or emotional disability– it would go here. Or really anything which would keep them from achieving their goals)
- (I have to admit now– I’m not very good at figuring out quirks, so if you want a more detailed explanation, you should look it up elsewhere. Sorry! 😉 )
Speech: (How does the character talk? Quickly or slowly? Long or short sentences? What type of diction or vocabulary do they use? How do they structure their sentences? Do they have an accent? Also you may want to remember that guys and girls talk different or do a bit of research on that.)
That should be about it! I also include a random picture from the internet that looks like my character, but I’m sure most of you do that, too.
Since I did a character interview with Baehur last week, I’m going to use his profile as my example (because you already have a small bit of experience with him.)
Let me know if you have any questions, and I would love to hear how you outline your characters! And if you have any tips on writing quirks– well, I could definitely use some help 😉
Example Character: Baehur
Race: Shama’aem elf (that would be the air race)
Birth: A small farm in Green Vale, Evcadeh on the 23rd of Haedesh
Place they were raised: A small farm in Green Vale, Evcadeh
Parentage: Father: Ales (a believer in the Shama’aem King) and a mother: Oris (also a follower of the Shama’aem King)
Family: He was the oldest with three younger siblings (Lamah- 10 year old boy, Hali- 6 year old girl, and Paran- 2 year old boy).
Age at beginning of CoC: 15
Age at beginning of DoF: 16
Age at beginning of SoS: (Uh, I actually need to figure this out still– oops!)
Age at beginning of HoM: 18
(So I have to be honest; I deleted a question here for spoiler reasons, but it is only relevant to fantasy, and I don’t think will effect most people’s characters.)
Personality Type: ESFJ (Extroverted Sensing Feeling Judging) = https://www.personalitypage.com/ESFJ.html (A link to a description of the personality)
Description: Baehur has lightly tanned skin, and is the average size and build for his age. He has curly brown hair which sometimes gets into his light blue eyes. He has an intelligent, freckled face though not a confident air.
Pre-book History: Baehur grew up on a farm in Green Vale, Evcadeh. His father, Ales, was a believer in the King and raised Baehur to serve the King even in their small village. One day, only a month before they got Mar, the King with His knights showed up at his village, and offered Baehur to join them. Baehur accepted and is now one of the Seven Knights of Evcadeh; he learned that he replaced a knight by the name of Jaern who was killed in battle a year earlier.
Trauma: While Baehur (a bit here is taken out for spoiler reasons), he suffers no real lasting trauma.
- Internal: Baehur wished to live up to the expectations for himself, and he wishes to serve the King the best possible that he can, even though he is still unsure of his role. He strives to be a gentleman like Gaevr’el.
- External: Baehur wants to get to the Golden Fort and train, then defeat the Livyahak army and kill Nakavar. He also wants to protect his family and friends.
Motivation: Baehur is motivated by his love for the King and Gaevr’el’s confidence in him, but he is also motivated by his family. His family believes in him which is why they let Karlik take him. His fear is that he will let everyone down, and so he strives to be the best knight that he can. As Baehur gets to know Gaevri’el, Baehur realized that he needs to become the knight that Gaevr’el is.
What would break them?
Finding out that had failed his family, friends, or the King, and that he survived helpless against the power that killed them. That he could not save those closest to him or that he failed the prophecy.
*Especially, if he found out his family died because of him, and he could have stopped it but was busy being a knight instead.
(Please note that I do not actually plan on doing this– don’t worry 😉 )
- (CoC + DoF) Baehur struggles with Raewas ’s seemingly unexplained hate for him
- (All books) Baehur struggles with self-esteem—feeling inadequate and not good enough
- (This one was deleted because it has spoilers in it!)
- (DoF) Baehur struggles to take the lead, even when he is supposed to be the leader
- (Again, more spoilers were here)
- Because of his hair getting in his eyes, when Baehur is nervous, he sticks his fingers in his eyes and pushes back invisible hair, letting his fingers rest on his temples
- Baehur blurts out his thoughts very often and speaks exactly what is on his mind
- He is not confident in his own abilities
- Not a very good sword fighter (until he is trained), and he would never be able to harm those who he loves
- He is very comfortable around nature, farming equipment, and animals.
- Once Baehur is trained, he becomes an excellent fighter
- Quick learner
Speech: Baehur has a habit of blurting out his thoughts and suddenly entering a conversation. He is always brutally honest in his words, and uses small words and shorter sentences. He has a slight accent, constantly abbreviating words and using the word “ya”. Generally, he has uneducated speech. However, (spoilers– this was deleted.)