A character sketch is a short portrayal of a character doing something that defines who he or she is.
It could be a grandmother shopping for vegetables at the grocery store, a teenage boy asking a girl out on a date or a robber plotting a heist. It really doesn’t matter. The sketch just needs to portray the character being himself.
As simple as that sounds, sometimes it’s difficult to write. In this article I’m going to show you how every single one of your favorite writers have portrayed their characters so that you can do the same. Sound like a pretty tall order? Just keep reading.
Pick Your Favorite Writer
Choose a passage from a story that portrays a character to do a character sketch. Ask yourself the following questions.
- How are stories and anecdotes used to portray character?
- How is the character’s reputation used to portray him or her?
- How are stereotypes of the character’s group used to portray him or her?
- How are skills and talents used to portray him or her?
- How are the character’s tastes and preferences used to portray him or her?
- How is exaggeration used to portray him or her?
- How do the things he or she owns characterize the character?
- What physical traits characterize him or her?
- What gestures portray him or her?
- How do the character’s speech patterns portray him or her?
- What habits portray him or her?
Ask these same questions about any author’s writing is the world. The questions are always the same, but the answers are always different.
Are You Still With Me?
I know, I know. I’m giving you a lot of work to do.
But asking yourself these questions will give you a very deep understanding. You will know exactly what the writer did.
But, more importantly, you will know exactly what you need to do when you write your own character sketch.
So, let’s continue asking questions.
- How do the character’s traits help to portray him or her?
- How is the character portrayed by his or her actions?
- How do the characters reactions to others and their surrounding circumstances portray them?
- How is the character portrayed by what others say about him or her?
- Is he or she positive or negative? Tragic or comic? Hero or villain?
- Does he or she represent a universal archetype? Which one?
Whew! I’m Glad That’s Over
Congratulations! You have just completed a very important exercise.
Now you have an intimate understanding of what it takes to create a character.
Now it’s your turn.
There is a saying among writers that character is setting.
Think about it. Someone who chooses to live his life as a commercial fisherman in Alaska is substantially different from someone who lives his life in an artist’s community in Manhattan.
Perhaps it is a setting that actually doesn’t suit your character so you can show how awkward he is.
Think about it.
OK, what is the character doing? Is he going playing chess? Perhaps he is negotiating a sale.
It doesn’t matter just as long as the action portrays who the character is.
Now develop a character map. These are things like
- catch phrases he might use
- physical gestures
- clothes he likes to wear
- Beliefs he has
- certain habits
- The list can go on and on
Weave these things into the setting through the character’s action.
You see, when you take things one step at a time writing a character sketch becomes very easy.
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