Complete Guide on Writing a Character Sketch
We all want our written works to be not only engaging but also full of life and vivid. It is a great intention, but not every student knows how to achieve such an important goal. Most of them are not aware that a wrong approach may only harm the story, especially if you don’t know your characters well enough.
In most of the cases, outstanding stories are character-oriented and experienced writers know it very well. If the characters are boring or even absent, the story will not be interesting at all. So if you want to succeed, your characters should have the leading role, showing the story what direction to go.
To achieve this, you must know your character from A to Z. And the best way to know the character is to start with writing a character sketch.
Character Sketch Definition
A character sketch is a brief and comprehensive description of a person that aims to introduce the reader to certain attributes of a character: whether it is physical appearance, behavior under different circumstances, thoughts and experiences that impact actions in future.
In other words, it is a description of a character, which is needed for the success of the story. Your main goal is to provide the audience with a clear image of the character, which is necessary for your story.
Description of the chosen character should answer all of the questions that the audience may have. Including:
- What are the physical features of the characters?
- What is the story behind the characters?
- In what psychological state the characters are? What are their goals, emotions, and fears?
- How do they communicate?
- What are their main life aspirations?
- How can the story benefit from such information?
These questions are not compulsory but yet very advisable if you want to understand your characters. There is no single and accepted pattern of writing a character sketch because everything depends on the goals you are pursuing and the format of the story. However, below we will explain what to include to your sketch and what things to avoid. Just answer a series of questions about the character, and you will get all the data you may need!
What Are the Physical Features of the Character?
When you think of your character, physical appearance may not be the first thing that comes to your mind although you need to have a clear image of how your character looks like. Any time you make a new acquaintance you notice a few details (if the stranger is not wearing a mask): face, height, hair, body type and attire.
Imagine that you need to tell your friends or relatives about a special meeting. How would you start? For example:
Hello Anna, today I met a man at the gas station. He looked so handsome in plain jeans and a t-shirt with a superhero logo. He is very tall and has curly brown hair just like Uncle Sam! I guess he is a doctor because there was a big folder with medical histories in his hands. Probably he was leaving the hospital.
In the example above you have told Anna (your friend or sister) about man’s age, his body type, possible occupation and also noticed a resemblance with your Uncle Sam. You may have talked to him, but you will most likely remember the physical appearance and details of clothes, and not his name or the way he talked.
If you meet that man at the hospital or any other place, you can just start the conversation:
Hello, I guess I saw you two days ago at the gas station. You were wearing a funny t-shirt and held a pile of medical histories.
As you see, physical appearance and attributes can create a broader picture of the first impression. So if you want to skip this important stage to dive into the character’s psychological world at once, you risk of losing a big part of the story. Appearance and emotions are inseparable, and you need to give readers a chance to imagine how the character looks like in order to understand the story better. Describing appearance is one of the first steps in creating a character sketch.
What’s Your Character Busy with?
Your readers will always be interested in what your character is up to (unless he dies in the first chapter). This aspect is as important as describing physical appearance. The audience should know what the character is busy with when you introduce him for the first time. Providing such details helps readers to evaluate other important aspects of the story: time and setting, location and much more.
Let’s imagine that your character is a medical intern and he sleeps on a shift. The reason may be that he had a rough night, arguing with his girlfriend or he is simply lazy. Of course, you will want to tell the reader why your intern is asleep in the workplace. Will he be fired? What will the consequences be? As you see, such details may give your story further direction.
Your character’s sketch should also reflect the actions or inactions of the person and how they impact the plot. A sleepy intern will surely be a bad example for others. You can draw a picture of how his alarm clock wakes him up, and he rushes to admission’s desk.
Remember, your sketch should contain a detailed description of the character’s actions. That is exactly how the plot evolves. Why is your character sitting over textbooks late after midnight? Why is he constantly distracted by smartphone notifications during a date? Your description needs to explain the actions of the character. In such a way you will help the audience to understand what part the character will occupy in a bigger story.
What Are His/Her Emotions?
Every character has a certain emotional state. Of course, emotions may vary, and every person may go from positive to very angry in a matter of seconds. However, such a switch is usually caused by different experiences.
You may stick to several dominant emotions that determine your character’s outlook on life. Are they positive? What things make them happy? Do they often experience anxiety? Do they feel themselves a part of the community? What fears do they have? Are they playing by the common rules?
When you need to describe the emotions and behavior of the character further in the story, you can refer to your sketch and person’s dominant emotions.
Now, when you add emotional state to your character’s sketch, you should be sure that these details are relevant to your story. Make sure that you are not simply stating emotions that people feel but also showing the reader by inserting dialogs, actions, and thoughts of the character.
For example, if your character is happy and positive, he won’t be angry with a broken tire. He will just come up with a solution and will go on through the day. Referring to dominant emotions is a great way to develop the plot and to make your story interesting and engaging.
Does Your Character Need a Name?
Even if the character appears only episodically, he will need a name. If you decide to write a sketch, it means that the character is important and you definitely need to give him a name. In addition, your readers may need to refer him further in the story. Don’t worry, you may change that name in the future, so there is no need to spend days on choosing a proper one.
However, there are multiple online catalogs, which may greatly simplify the process of choosing a name. Some websites offer users to choose a name depending on gender, ethnicity or even time period. You can also choose a meaningful name that will contribute to the story. In addition, you can always give your character a nickname that will explain the background of the person or some of the hobbies he has.
The Story Behind the Character
As you remember, character sketch aims to guide the reader through a bigger story. That is why you need to create details that will give your readers background information. At a certain point, your plot may require such information: character’s birthplace, childhood experiences and how they influenced adult personality.
You may not need such information more than once, but it will surely help you to create a true story. If your goal is not to generate tens of unanswered questions, it is better to be ready and give all the answers that readers may need.
If you find it challenging to create a background story of the character, you can think of a person you know that is similar to the character you are describing. It may be a friend or a family member that will inspire you and will help to create a true story of the past. Your main goal is to make such a story believable.
For example, if the character doesn’t like people, he was probably hurt in the past and now is trying to distance from others not to experience that pain again. The audience is always willing to know what experience and situations made characters to get where they are now.
At first, it may be quite challenging to write a character’s sketch, but it will become much easier if you practice. In case you don’t have time, don’t worry! There are professional writing companies that are ready to help.
Even if you think that your character sketch is ready, there may still be pieces of important information that can occur when working on a bigger story. When they appear, don’t forget to write them down and add to your character sketch.
In most of the cases, stories write themselves, so you won’t simply be able to work on all of the details before writing the story itself. The next time an interesting detail or fact comes up you only need to write it down. You can easily forget them, and it will only harm the story, so don’t trust your memory and keep all the thoughts on paper.
What may these details include? For example, things that distinguish your character from others and how these differences lead to an argument. The same applies to similarities of the person to others and how these similarities contributed to creating better communication with other characters of the story. Remember, you should always include maximum details, because they will enrich the story and explain readers the motives of various characters and their impact on the plot.
Things to Keep in Mind
A character sketch is a sort of a guideline of the story. Its main goal is to help the author to understand the character in order to introduce them to the audience. Not all of the elements of the sketch will be included to the story, but you still need to make sure that it contains all of the necessary details, like gender, age, body type, height, birth country, dominant emotions and so on. You should also keep in mind that some of the elements of your sketch may be transmitted through the actions. You may not simply declare that your character loves reading but tell how he postponed a date to finish reading an interesting novel. Or how he spent two days of vacation in a local library instead of sunbathing on the beach.
As a result, you will create a character that will develop the story and will help it to evolve. You will understand the character, his actions and what consequences those actions may have. Remember, the main purpose of a character sketch is to create a comprehensive, character-based and reliable story that the audience will admire.