A character sketch is the internal and external makeup of a character. While your main characters' sketches will obviously be more in-depth than those of secondary characters, it is wise to have character sketches for all your characters. That way, if you forget what color your heroine's mother's eyes are, you can simply pull up the character sketch, rather than skim through all the back chapters.
Most character sketches include an extensive list of questions for you to answer before you begin to breathe life into your characters. Below are some of the more common things you'll find covered in character sketches:
Place of birth/Where they grew up
Parents/Other close family members
Things they would like to change about themselves and their lifestyle
Biggest regret/Biggest embarrassment/Biggest secret
The more you can understand about your characters before you write Chapter 1, the better off you'll be. However, a lot of writers are still discovering their characters' secrets several chapters into a book. When a character is truly defined in the author's head, it may require some changes in the prior chapters to make sure the character's internal makeup is clear to the reader. New writers need to understand that this type of backtracking is okay. Very few authors write their books from beginning to end without doing some rewriting.
Don't try to tell the reader everything about your characters at their first introduction. Present your characters to the reader the way you would want to get to know someone in real life. How would you like it if someone you just met started blasting you with every detail of his life? Let the facts about your story people come across the page slowly through action, dialogue, internal thought, and narrative.
Is your character an introvert or an extrovert? Is she a type A personality or a type B? Your fictional characters need personality types just like real people. And to create them, you'll need to understand the different types and how their minds work.
A lot of authors start by filling out character personality assessment charts — such as the Myers-Briggs test. Numerous books on the subject exist and can provide you with these tests. However, you can also find them online. (For one such Web site, refer to Appendix C.) Filling out these charts for your characters can help you flesh them out from stick people to real people whom you feel as though you know and understand.
An important part of creating story people is deciding upon a character's profession. Careers not only enhance characterization, they offer clues about personality types and add setting possibilities. In addition, careers can be the catalyst for the plot and can hint at the overall tone of the novel.
Do you remember the point in your life when you began to wonder what you wanted to be when you grew up — trying to decipher what your gifts and talents were, and what job would best suit your personality? Well, now it's time to do the same thing for your characters. What profession suits them? Will you give them a profession they love? Or will you give them one from which they are longing to escape?
A great resource for choosing your character's career is Raymond Obstfeld and Franz Neumann's book,
Research proves that certain personality types do better in certain jobs. So, it makes sense that there is a reason your characters have chosen certain professions. This doesn't mean that they haven't chosen the wrong ones, of course. Being caught in the wrong profession can also be a catalyst for a plot. What's important is that you know your character's personality and match them to the right — or wrong — career on purpose.