Writing Wednesday: Character Outlining

Part of the first week of this month I spent developing/fleshing out characters for the next two books I’m working on.

Two at once… yes, I tell no lies. Both books have the bones of their stories plotted from beginning to end. I’ve created a basic outline of each character, but now comes the time I dive into them. It’s getting into their heads and often it requires more than just a basic physical description and backstory.

In the good, ol’ beginner days, I’d simply list the GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict), Physical description (Age, height, hair style/color, eye color, clothing preference), Name, Occupation, and Backstory. Times are changing, as I’ve found this isn’t enough and I despise being halfway through a story and realizing the hero has this quirk or the heroine needs a catchphrase. As a perfectionist and someone who loves efficiencies, I want to know those things on the front end.

One does not simply will a character into existence. So to start, looked at the Scrivener template. Did you know that? This magical writing software provides a character outline template.

Character Name > Role in the Story > Occupation > Physical Description > Personality > Habits/Mannerisms > Background > Internal Conflicts > External Conflicts > Notes

Of course, I added in a few things and took away a couple.

Character Name > Role in the Story > Occupation > Physical Description > Personality > Habits/Mannerisms > Background > Goal > Motivation > Conflicts > Internal Conflicts > External ConflictsFatal Flaw > Notes

It’s a basic start and usually what I am looking for at this point is Personality, Habits/Mannerisms, and Background. I may dig into the Emotional Thesaurus(s), which is a series of books. They hit on emotions, but I can use this as ways to get habits and mannerisms.

The background is extremely important, and I dig into the family as much as the person. It’s good to know are they from a close-knit group, how old are their parents, where did they grow up. Really dive into those elements of the character’s past. Because where a person comes from shapes them. If your character’s father was an alcoholic it could make them more susceptible to alcohol or the type to abstain completely. A family history of diabetes has your hero acting like a huge health nut so he’ll have some conflict with a heroine who loves the doughnuts. That conflict doesn’t have to carry the whole book, but it adds an extra layer to your story. We’re complex creatures, the sum of dozens of experiences and genetics. Design those fictional players the same way.

For my writers: Do you have outline tips or tools you use?

For my readers: What types of things do you like about your favorite characters – personality, quirks, detailed histories?

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