Monday, August 8, 2011


By K.P. Sharpe

There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a story and have to thumb through chapters looking for the color of a main character’s eyes or hair. Even the size/weight of your character or age of the character when the novel started can get lost in the sauce of your first draft. Who has the luxury of time to stop and go back to double check? When getting the story down pat, it’s amazing how much of the major/minor details you can forget, unless you create checklists. I use them for my short stories and especially my novels to keep track of physical descriptions as well as the character’s relationship to the others. I have one-page checklists for the short stories, and a full eight-page checklist for my novel characters. I have split the eight-page checklist so it covers two at a time, usually the main two characters. I may not use every question in my checklist, but by the time I finish, I have a detailed account of my main characters.

What type of components should be included in a checklist?
First the usual: date, place of birth, full name and the meaning of the name (if it’s unique); physical attributes like eye and hair color, height, weight, build, skin tone and hair style. Other details like home town, hobbies, favorite music, food, literature, color and drink become major tidbits of information as well. Things like, what mode of transportation does your character use; is he or she a drinker? Smoker? How much education does she or he have, and what is the primary occupation, are important points as well. I ask does my character have children, is the relationship with the children important, and if the parents are alive, what is the relationship between them? Even if the description is no more than a few mentions here and there in the novel or short story, it’s important to have something you can build on.

What else should you have in a checklist?
Everything I described above is rather generic and straightforward. I also ask which of the seven deadly sins or virtues does my character give into or fight against, what talents does my character have, what is the biggest regret? Biggest accomplishment, what are the peculiarities? What is his or her’s darkest secret and who knows about it? What do friends/family like most/least about the character? How does the character react to change or new problems? What is his or her drives and motivations? Is she or he divorced? Who is the person your character secretly admires and why? What is the religion and spiritual beliefs, and what part of religion or spiritually does it play in the character’s life. I even want to list what pets the character has, where he or she hangs out, where does the character vacation, and even what is the present and previous relationships with the opposite sex. I even list at least four close friends, their names and ages.

A couple of writing friends saw my character checklists and customized them for their own use. They realized this was a good way to build main characters and keep them consistent throughout your novel or short story. To have to stop and double check something 150 or more pages back is just not good when you’re under deadline. So build the skeleton first, the meat goes on easier that way.♥

Karen Pearl Sharpe has been an astrologer for close to four decades; wrote nonfiction articles for several weekly New York City newspapers and astrology columns for CableView Magazine, Harlem News Group and the nationally distributed Street News. Her NaNoWriMo novel from 2009, PSYCHIC LOVERS, was published under her pen name Sydelle Houston, and her collection of erotic short stories called Hot Pages will be available in August 2011, both on She is currently working on a historical novel set in 1870 New York. Her main blog is:

No comments:

Post a Comment