Editor’s Note: This article is a by-product of Michelle Chaplin’s novel-writing process; however, all identities have been altered for this blog post. Any semblance to all living, dead, or fictitious persons is strictly coincidence in all cases heretofore and hereafter.
A Character Sketch
The study of character development should begin with the etymology of two significant words:
- Author (n.)- creator, originator, father.
- Protagonist (n.)- The main character in a piece of fiction.
A character sketch is a useful tool for developing a protagonist. It summarizes your character’s personality and situation in life.
Think of yourself as an author in the original sense of the word.
As an author, you create your characters. The most important character you will ever create is a protagonist. Much like a child, the protagonist will burst to life from the wellspring of your mind and live to face a problem. Your protagonist guides the plot.
Because the protagonist is the most important person or thing you will ever create, consider the following questions as a springboard for your character sketch. Answer these questions in your journal, on a napkin, or on a continuous scroll while in a trance (if you seek to emulate Kerouac).
Example Questions and Answers
1. What is your protagonist’s physical appearance?
Joe has sandy blond hair, blue eyes, and a burly build. He smells like Sex Wax due to his frequent surfing trips at sunrise. Women swoon at the manly sparkle in his wink.
(Note: For those in the audience who don’t surf, this wax is hailed for its ability to stick a surfer to a board.)
2. What is your protagonist’s name, gender, profession, and age?
Joe is a 37-year-old professional male surfer. I imagine he looks something like this.
3. Who is your protagonist’s best friend and family? By the way, is he single?
Unfortunately, Joe’s family died at sea in the Bahamas due to faulty navigational instruments. Joe hangs with a younger woman Rastafarian named Marley. The two seem oddly matched because she has a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Stanford University, and he has a high school diploma. On closer inspection, however, one can see vast similarities. For one, Joe and Marley both enjoy salted soft dough pretzels and rocket pops. Although Joe and Marley have been friends since preschool, they have never become a couple. So, yes, he is single, even though Marley looks like this.
4. What is a conversation you might have with the protagonist?
“Hey, Joe. How’s it hangin’?”
“Oh, man. I met the finest librarian at the Huntington Library. She read through my pages like a stealthy tigress and stole my heart, body, and soul in a moment.”
“Wow! She must be something if she’s got you talking like a semi-intellectual. I want to see that hottie.”
“Believe me. You will.”
5. Where does your protagonist live? What does he drive?
Joe’s beach house is in San Clemente, California; he drives an Audi Silver Fox, which he inherited from his parents’ estate when they passed at sea.
Carry on with more questions like this until you have detailed answers about your protagonist, and you will soon develop a persona to carry the conflict of a screenplay, short story, or novel. Creating a design board may also help you visualize whether or not your protagonist will be believable enough for your audience to fall in love with. You may want to organize your results in an essay form. Good luck.
P.S. Joe loves Jack Johnson.