Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Character Dossier

Writing a new story but don’t quite know your characters yet?  There are two ways to get to know them. 

The first is that you, the writer, allows your characters to develop at their own pace AS the story is being written.  This method adds those authentic elements of surprise enjoyed by both reader and writer.  On the downside, without careful scrutiny, these characters are in danger of being inconsistent or being similar to the other characters, because it’s the writer’s perspective, reactions and development that comes through more than the characters themselves.

The other method is to create a character dossier before you start writing the story.  What is a character dossier?  It’s simply an information “file” of your character.  There are usually four or five specific subjects covered in a dossier.

The first section usually consists of basic information like name, age, marital status, gender, birthday, spouse, place of birth, siblings, career, education, family, friends, etc.  Usually the general information one would most likely find on a job, college or biographical application.

The next section would probably contain physical information like hair type, color or style, skin, eyes, complexion, height, weight, race, type of clothing, style, faults, scars, tattoos, etc.  Completing these minute details will help create a clearer picture of your character.  Having the information written down in a dossier also allows for a source of reference to maintain consistency (or change) throughout the story.

The next section gets even more personal and more detailed as it contains the family, personality and likes/dislikes information like parents personalities, home life, childhood, siblings personalities and relationship status, hobbies, temperament, talents, good qualities, bad qualities, strengths, weaknesses, loves, likes, dislikes, bad habits, fears, turn ons or turn offs, etc.,

The last suggested section would involve personality trait information, usually rated on a scale of 1-10 like warm – cold, outgoing – shy, optimist – pessimist, spender – saver, leader – follower, risk-taker – cautious, quiet – loud, subtle – direct, heroic – cowardly, responsible – irresponsible, etc. 

Creating a character dossier will give you a clearer picture f your character, often times knowing this information in advance helps the writer get into character easier, having that clear definition.  Sometimes just knowing all those details helps to inspire many scenes throughout the story in showcasing those traits.  Also, for stories that have seemed to stall, creating a character dossier can sometimes help the writer spot troubled areas with their stories or characters, most often kick-starting creativity to flow freely once again.

So, whether you’ve ever used a character dossier before or not, I personally find them very useful and think all writers should at least give it a shot.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

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