Does this ever happen to you? You’re writing your story, chugging right along, when you come across a sentence where you want to note your character’s eye color. And…you don’t remember.
Or maybe for you, it isn’t eye color. It could be hair color. Or height. Or even an entire occupation! The point is, it can be easy to forget smaller (but no less important) details about your characters. That can be a tad bit worrisome when you have to know your characters pretty well in order to finish that first draft.
But even while you’re going through your draft for the second — or the third, fourth, fifth…hundredth — time, you might notice some inconsistencies. For instance, maybe you notice that in Chapter 1 your protagonist is a blond while in Chapter 15 he’s brunette…and a girl? Well, you might want to write some of these details down.
When I shared with a good friend that I can’t for the life of me remember the eye colors of my characters, she reacted with indignance and maximum confusion. How is it possible for me to forget something so basic?!
Well, sometimes pantsers (and I consider myself to be a mixture of both plotter and pantser) who don’t use outlines all that often don’t even know who their character is until several pages in — sometimes longer. When I’m so focused on who my characters are, it’s easy to overlook what they look like.
And if you’re anything like me, you probably have issues with remembering the little physical appearances/details too.
Here’s something that’s become a great help to me. I’ve been using this system on and off for the past, oh, ten or so years, and it’s easy enough to get used to. I originally started listing the physical attributes of each of my main characters (hair, eyes, height, etc.), and it may sound obvious, but it helps to be reminded that it’s important to write this kind of thing down if you’re forgetful.
NaNoWriMo Character Questionnaire
Luckily, I discovered a template from NaNoWriMo last year, the Character Questionnaire, that includes those all-importance physical appearance details right alongside the big-picture character details (motivations, greatest desires, etc.).
Using this template, you can fill in everything you could ever want to know about your characters, a little at a time or all at once. You could even wait until you’ve finished the draft, then go back and finish this, and revise your draft with this template in mind. So, whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, the questionnaire still works.
Personally, I’ve found both my crude, spare template and NaNoWriMo‘s more detailed questionnaire very helpful for different kinds of projects, depending on how I’m writing (plotting or pantsing). There is, however, another way for the kind of writer who must know EVERYTHING.
Try keeping a character bible. While my original template had about five to ten go-to sections for the spare details and NaNoWriMo took a deeper dive, creating a character bible is a big step into the meticulous realm. You can pretty much include whatever sorts of details you want, from go-to outfits to the pattern of your character’s freckles. Whatever you want to include, it goes in the character bible.
Sure, it can be a lengthy process to write down all the details you want to include. And to be honest, you probably won’t even use most of them in your actual draft. But just knowing the ins and outs of your character can make the writing process go much smoother.
But before I go, there is one last option that I want to point out. If you don’t want to write all these details down or if you’re more of a visual learner, try making your character with picrew.
There are many different styles of art to choose a template from, and then all you’ve got to do is choose the details. It’s super easy (and fun!), and in the end, you’ll have your own unique image, a face to give to your character.
Whatever your preference, I hope these options have helped you figure out the best way to keep track of what your characters look like. I for one know that having these little tricks in your back pocket is definitely worthwhile.
Happy writing! ❤