How to Write a Novel – Character Series – The 9 Essential Character Elements Worksheet
Welcome to Week 7 of 52 Weeks of
52 Kick Ass Writing Tools!
Today I am going to share my 9 Character Element Worksheet With You
Question: What’s the ultimate goal when writing characters?
Answer: Writing a character that pops off the page, that is constantly fascinating, and that readers and audiences remember.
Oh I got the villain, boy do I got the villain!
One writer at a read and critique group I was leading was writing an incredibly boring protagonist. Week after week the members of the group would tell him that his action hero was flat, unformed and a bit cliché. And he would always respond, “But what about the villain? Don’t I have a great villain?” And he did. His villain was original and fully formed. He assumed that as long as most of his characters were formed he was good to go – and he sent out the manuscript to agents. The feedback he got was, “very interesting side characters, but not invested in the main character”. He came back to the group stunned. Stunned, yet finally ready to flesh out his main character. But he had no idea where to start. I too was exhausted with the “Character Bible” method I was taught – wherein you needed to know everything about a character from the day he or she was born. I was impatient with this tool – and truth be told I can be a lazy writer.
At first this writer tried the “write to find it” method – this is where he just kept throwing his character into situations hoping that the voice might magically come alive. Didn’t work. He came to me in total frustration.
I decided to look at all the elements that make up a full, real, alive character. I wanted something fast and as painless as possible.
Thus this tool was born.
By walking the writer through these 9 Elements he was able to swiftly locate the area that was not fully formed in his protagonist (the flaw!).
Here’s the damn truth:
When I was working as a screenwriter I found two distinct experiences.
Characters either dropped into my lap fully formed and speaking to me from the get go – or I couldn’t get a handle on them and I struggled to find their voice. I see this experience repeated all the time with my clients. Writers either just suddenly are able to download a fully formed character where writer seems to know everything about them (how they talk, walk, speak, dream…). Then its time to create the mentor or the love interest and they got nothing.
This tool is for characters that:
- Feel fully formed but for some reason are coming out flat, lifeless or not fully developed
- You simply can’t get a handle on and need to develop from the ground up
This tool is for the lazy writer (like me).
Great thinkers and writers who have helped develop this character approach: Carl Jung, John Vorhaus, David Freeman, Linda Seger, John Truby, Linda Edelstein, Levi-Strauss
9 Character Elements Worksheet
1. The BASICS
2. ROLE (protagonist, antagonist, foil, surrounding major or minor)
3. FLAWS (ex: selfish, rude, racist, angry, annoying, mean, lazy) ____________________________________________________________
4. LOVE-ABILITY: (ex: honest, kind, loyal, loves animals, smart) ____________________________________________________________
5. Character WANTS/PLOT GOAL:
Wants: Character’s overall Goals/motivations/dreams. Don’t censor yourself here. My character’s wants_______________________________________________
SPECIFIC Plot Goal: Refine what your character wants into a SPECIFIC GOAL. Often the plot goal is what character thinks he/she wants (solve mystery, get the girl, get the promotion, get revenge, change body image, prove herself to the world…)_____________________________________________________________________
6. INNER NEED: What character really needs (self-acceptance, to experience real love, to be awakened to life, to face darkest demon, to risk, to find courage) ___________ ____________________________________________________________
NOTE: The plot goal is what the character thinks he wants or needs, the inner need is what the character truly needs.
7. Character ARC: (Positive, Negative or No Change) _______________________
Positive Arc: (bad place to good place) _________________________________
Negative Arc: (good to bad, neutral to bad or bad to worse)___________________
No Change: Character makes no change during the story_____________________
My character STARTS OUT: (scared, lost, doesn’t believe in herself, hopeless, bitter, angry…) _____________________________________________________
My character ENDS UP: (at peace, awake to life, with belief in himself, released of anger or bitterness, with hope…) _________________________________________
8. WOUND: Moment things changed, character was forever changed/hurt by life
Life Defining Wound:_____________________________________________
9. ARCHETYPE: ______________________________________________
Stay tuned for #10 The Special Sauce or Utilizing Contrast
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