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5 Steps for Writing a Character Sketch (Blank Sketch Plan & Bonus Exercises included)

Updated on January 22, 2015

In Creating Lifelike Characters, I discussed how to create realistic, three dimensional characters by using a character profile and building motivations and backstory. In this article, I will further expand on that by explaining how to write a character sketch for your character. Character Sketches are another method you can try for character development.

Think of a character sketch as a word painting that shows things about your character rather than tells. Writing a character sketch is often the first step in writing a short story and will definitely help you with character descriptions in longer pieces. Character sketches use all the elements I discussed in creating lifelike characters, but rather than telling you their back story, it will show it to you through things like gesture, dialogue, setting and other sensory images. I'll explain the main things to think about when writing a character sketch and provide a Character Sketch Plan to follow. I will also provide a few bonus exercises at the end of this article. You can use these exercises to assist in coming up with a character sketch or use them simply as development tools.

By matsuyuki on Flickr.com
By matsuyuki on Flickr.com | Source

Here Are The Steps...

Step 1: Choose Your Person
- Sometimes the people in our lives are the greatest inspiration for new characters or even stories. The first step in writing a character sketch is to pick a person you know, used to know or have observed while you were out and about. You can make a list of interesting people and use that to make your choice. Once you've chosen you can change the names. Also think about their traits and what makes them stand out in your mind. What is your first impressions of them? Think of some general impressions of the person.

Step 2: Collect Details
- Like I said in my last character development hub, it's all in the details. Think about the person's physical features and their personality. Think about their style of dress, facial features, voice, the way he or she stands or smiles, gestures they do frequently, etc. Write down all these impressions for the future. As you write these impressions down, think about everything in terms of sensory details (sight, sound, smell and touch). Sight can include things like style of dress, hairstyle, etc. Sounds can include phrases they often use or the sound of their voice. Smell can be a list of smells you associate with the person. And touch can be anything from their soft hair, warms hugs or callused fingertips. Be specific, don't generalize. Also think of action details like how this person walks or gestures he or she uses often. You can use gestures and actions to reveal things about your character. And finally add dialogue. The way a person speaks also reveals a lot about a character's personality. Think of phrases your chosen person uses a lot or show them talking to another person.

Step 3: Your Character's Dominant Trait
- From your notes, think of your character's dominant trait. Think of an overall impression of your character. Do all the details add up to him or her being shy, flamboyant, nervous, etc.? You can also mix and match their traits. Shake things up a bit. If their dominant trait is say "neat and tidy", you can show that person cleaning up and in the same scene show a single drawer that is cluttered and filled with junk. This makes the character seem more three dimensional and human.

Step 4:Think of Your Chosen Person's Background
- When you're writing a character sketch you can show a lot about the person by choosing an appropriate background. Think of background details like a setting. For example, if the person is a workaholic, you might consider showing them in an office; if they're a body builder, you can show them in the gym; or if they're fond of shopping you can show them in a mall or clothing store. Pick a setting that reveal something about your character.

Step 5: Use A Character Sketch Plan
- Organize your notes with a character sketch plan you can look at later. Having a character sketch plan can be a useful tool later when you're writing your sketch. You can pull details and bits of information you think are important to show from it. It can also be used as a guide. See the example of a sketch plan below.

Be sure to follow the steps and you can't go wrong.
Be sure to follow the steps and you can't go wrong. | Source

Character Sketch Plan

Sketch Plan
(Character Name)

Overall Impression of Person:

Sensory Details:
Sight -
Sound -
Smell -
Touch -

Action Details:

Dialogue:

Background Details

Comparisons:

Influencing Facts:

Now Write Your Character Sketch

Start writing your sketch. It may take two or three drafts to make it perfect. It shouldn't be long, maybe about 500 words. Think descriptively as you write, that's all this is. A character sketch is merely a character description. However It still needs a beginning, a middle and an ending. Your beginning should state any general impressions and the set the background. The middle should be the meat of the piece. Use action and dialogue to really make your character description come to life. Finally, the end of your sketch should restate any first impressions and confirm their correctness or explain how they're wrong.

Bonus Exercises That Can Help Flesh Out Your Characters:

  • Interview your character. This is a fun way to get to know your character personally. Come up with some questions and let your characters answer them.
  • Describe a room in your character's life. This could be a bedroom, kitchen, office, etc.. The room you choose may be significant by itself. Your description will reveal loads about your character.
  • Write your character's most cherished or tragic memory. This can help you develop some background information and reveal more personality information.
  • Write a conversation between your character and someone important in their life. Be sure to incorporate not just verbal dialogue but also body language and subtext.

How do you come up with characters for your stories?

See results

© 2011 Skylar Spring

Did you find this helpful? Do you use character sketches when you're creating characters?

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    • profile image

      Sweettheeth230 

      20 months ago

      Sorry to say but, this didn't help me at all. I was looking for some useful steps but I didn't find them clearing my mind.

    • infernal199 profile image

      Arif 

      5 years ago from Bangladesh

      useful & detailed tips... keep it up :)

    • profile image

      manik 

      5 years ago

      That great pleasure for us Jesus is coming....

    • Winaiva profile image

      Jen Christopherson 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thank you so much!

    • Skylar Spring profile imageAUTHOR

      Skylar Spring 

      7 years ago from New York

      @Rosettaartist1... I learned about it during a first assignment for a writing course. Thanks for reading and voting.

      @MsBizPro... Thank you for reading this :)

    • MsBizPro profile image

      Anna Green 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Excellent advice! Thank you for writing this.

    • rosettaartist1 profile image

      Rosetta Ceesay 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Useful. Voted up. Good tips for the ambitious amateur writer.

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