Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Character Development Sheet

Hey guys,

Ever since
Unk had that truly great series on “Depth Charging Your Characters” last January (and he has coincidentally started a new series on Transformational Character Arcs, which already promises to be great), I’ve been meaning to share my own personal character development sheets.

Briefly, I was tuned in to the idea by Mrs. Very Smart Theatre Professor in a New England College. I’ve been hooked ever since. In all honesty, I cannot write a lead character in a script without doing a development sheet first. (I’m also a big believer in the
actor’s chart to help with difficult subtext, but I’ll get into that later.) In any case, I’ve reshaped my development sheets a gazillion times over the years. I’m never happy with it. It started out simple and then it became voluminous and unbearably tedious. Now the form has come full circle back to being simple again but different. And yet, it’s still perfectly adept at being as deep and complicated as I need it to be.

I just think it’s a good idea that, while you’re hopefully crafting an outline, you’re also asking yourself all those important questions about your lead characters that you should be asking yourself and that you’re clearly defining who your characters are and how they will change.

McKee likes to harp on the character-driven plot, but I think there are exceptions. Mysteries, crime noir, the novels of Agatha Christie, Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, etc, tend to be more plot-driven than character-driven, but all-in-all, though, I think it’s the cumulative effect of plot and character that creates the whole of a story. It's characters making decisions that move the story forward. Thus, I always feel compelled to work on outlines AND character development sheets at the same time. Also, clearly defining a character on paper helps me later if I have to articulate verbally EXACTLY what it is I’m trying to accomplish. Are you with me?

Without further adieu, here’s version number 1,256,742.

There are 4 sections:




Character Goals:

Inner Conflict:

Character Arc:

Character Depth:

Cast Design:

Physical Appearance:

Character’s Voice:


Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:

Which means:
How others may see this person:
Areas for growth:

DISC Pattern:

Which means:
Judges others by:
Influences others by:
Under pressure:


Dimensions of Characterization:

A. Physical

B. Sociological

C. Psychological

D. Spiritual

E. Philosophical

F. Neuroses

G. Freaky Habits

Character Mood Intensity:

A. Temperament

B. Heartbeat

C. Breathing

D. State of Perspiration

E. Muscular Tension

F. Stomach Condition

G. Sensory Condition

H. Intelligence – Kind

I. Major Frustrations

J. Insecurities

K. Paranoia




And that’s it.

The first section is essential. I can incorporate almost everything I need to explore about a character in Section 1. All of the sections after that are optional, but I ALWAYS fill out Section Two. I love Section Two. As some of you have discovered, I have this undying affection for Myers-Briggs personality types and the DISC pattern and also Socionics. I don’t know why, but it makes me happy to see where my characters fall on those charts.

For the record, I don’t believe that there are only 16 personality types in human beings any more than I believe that
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the end-all be-all definition of human existence. But like everything else, I look at them as sources of inspiration.

Section 3 with the "Dimensions of Characterization" is the only thing that's stuck around since my original development sheet, which was designed by Mrs. Very Smart Theatre Professor. I rarely use it, but I can’t part with it either.

In any case, I thought I’d spend the next few posts talking about each dimension and give examples (and add links to this post).

Weird. I've never shared this with anyone. I feel naked.



GimmeABreak said...

Mine's similar -

Eye color:
Hair color:
Birth date:
Birth location:
Birth sign:
Physical characteristics:
Social class:
Occupation (past/present):
Family makeup (childhood/present):
Political preferences:
Sexual preference:
Drug/alcohol use:
Traumas (childhood/adult):
View of the world:
MBTI type:

Mim said...

I do the birth dates and zodiacs too for my characters. I've studied astrology for years and you can pretty much describe everything on a character sheet by figuring out exactly when your character was born.

I also like to figure out some seminal event in his or her childhood: something that informed his or her choices in later life.

Carl S said...

I lack the discipline to do such things as these. Perhaps I will be inspired to buckle down and do it with my next script.

Mystery Man said...

Pat - "MBTI," yeah baby! You're a woman after my own heart.

Mim - Oooo... I really like that idea, actually.

Carl - Your writing's really great, though, man. You're just the writing wunderkind. Hehehe...


Clayton said...

I've never bothered with this. Why write all this unnecessary crap when in the end, if it is not going to be in the script, it doesn't matter?