Defining a Book's Personalities Through Character Sketches
I was in fourth grade the first time I learned what a character sketch was. I remember this because I was tasked with writing a short story and I had absolutely no clue what to write about. This was back when I was far too serious to be a nine-year-old and I was convinced I hated everything there was to know about creative writing. Sadly, I did not come up with some fantastical and creative character sketch to harness the potential of the would-be star of my story. Instead, I went home and cried. My Dad helped me write a new story. I’m pretty sure it was a rip-off of The Grinch. Thanks, Dad. I owe you one!
Now that I’m an author and I actually enjoy writing, I really appreciate the idea of a character sketch. When it comes to brainstorming book ideas, I’m not a very good plotter. The outline of my story tends to arrive to me in bits and pieces, all out of order, but the one thing I always try to do is define my characters. I need to know their names, what they look like, and other specific characteristics. I also like to know how they view life and what their relationships with other people are like.
And that’s essentially a character sketch in a nutshell.
Now, writing all this down is totally great. I usually keep a few of these notes or ideas in bullet points for each of my characters, but lately, I’ve been favoring a sort of photo collage character sketch opposed to detailed writing.
I’ve found with a collage, I’m able to capture a visual representation of the mood or tone that character has. And that’s exactly what it is: a character sketch mood board. Sometimes I use photos of actors that have the right look. Or I grab pieces of the setting that relate to them. I look at their clothing styles. Maybe there are pictures that represent their relationships with the other characters. Even the overall color tones can contribute to the vibe my character has.
There are tons of great websites out there to use to help with these designs. My favorite is Canva. It has great photo collage templates and lots of stock photos to browse for inspiration. For The Dark In-Between, I had a few central characters that I really focused on in my writing.
First up was Casey, my main character and the heroine of the story. In her original character sketch the bullet points I included were: reliable and easy-going; more of a tomboy than a girly-girl; and wildly determined to the point of being stubborn. She’s afraid of losing the people close to her after the death of her parents, so Liddy’s death hits her incredibly hard. She’s also harboring a crush on her other best friend, Evan. In terms of style, her look is casual but full of strength.
Next up we have Liddy. At the start of the story, there’s a terrible accident where Liddy is tragically killed. As one of Casey’s best friends, Liddy is like her sister. It’s their friendship that drives Casey to chase Liddy through Limbo on an epic rescue mission that spans both the living and the dead. In Liddy’s sketch, I wrote that she is fiercely protective and loyal, highly observant, and an optimist with a penchant for living life to its fullest. She comes from an upper-class family but she sheds that skin easily with her friends. She’s effortlessly beautiful, with long blonde hair and bright eyes. Her style is elegant and chic; she’s definitely the kind of girl that can change a car tire while wearing a summer dress and ballerina flats.
Third on the list was Evan, Casey’s other best friend turned romantic interest. His character sketch summed him up as witty, deceptively charming, and awkward with a habit of freaking out when things get weird. Despite that, he’s loyal, sticking with Casey as the paranormal infiltrates their town for the summer. With his boyish good looks, Evan is the comic relief. He’s there to make sure Casey keeps smiling and he’s also harboring a mutual crush. Plus he’s not bad with a sword when the going gets tough.
Last in the lineup was Red, the fallen angel come to earth to regain his wings by helping Casey save Liddy from Limbo. I knew he’d be on the younger side, trapped somewhere in the upper teens, just cresting his twenties, forever etched in time. He wears his hair on the longer side, tied back most of the time. He’s also tall. As an angel, Red can be very serious but there’s also a lightheartedness to him. He’s protective, with otherworldly wisdom, and he’s got that spark of ethereal handsomeness about him. Red’s also accustomed to loss in his own way, a point of connection he shares with Casey.
Designing these mood boards for each of my characters was an exercise that really helped me get a feel for them. This way, when I set out to write scenes, I felt like I understood my characters and their motivations better. And when it came to revisions, I could return to these sketches to make sure I hadn’t lost track of the characters in the story or use them to help me define each of their voices better. Plus they’re just fun to look at!