A few weeks ago I shared a post about how I sometimes (when bored or low on inspiration/creativity) use dice to create chaos for my characters. Letting the roll of of the die determine how effective a character is at coping with a situation. If you missed that day – it’s here. Today I wanted to talk about how I use character sheets to keep track of characters, build them, manage what they are carrying/wearing, and also how I sometimes use dice to build minions.
This method hearkens back to my nerd roots, and nights spent playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) down in the basement with my best buddies. If you have no concept of what D&D is, give episode one of Stranger Things a try on Netflix (if you haven’t watched this series, you can thank me later).
First, I thought I would show you an example of what a character sheets looks like. You can simply use a search engine and type, “Dungeons and Dragons Character Sheet,” to find endless variations. Or, if you are already keen to the concept, make you own.
Now you have a rough concept of what character sheets look like (if you had no idea what I was rambling on about before). Like I mentioned earlier, these are just two variations – there are hundreds of them online you can print out. Now let’s tackle some uses of them.
Manage Inventory. Depending on the setting of your book, gear (the things your character carries) might really matter. In the novel I am finishing up now, Wastelander, gear is limited. People have to scavenge and build the things they need. One of my Alpha Readers is quick to point out things like, “Dude, are you sure Jim has arrows left?” or, “Why didn’t they use [insert item]?”.
These are important continuity issues that must be addressed. When I get into a writing rhythm, I don’t like to scroll back pages to try to recount how many of an item is left. I just take a guess and move forward and tell myself I’ll fix it in rewrites. Using a character sheet can help you keep track of those items and speed you right along.
What the heck does you character look like? I’m not a big fan of blasting out two or three paragraphs describing characters as they show up in the book, but that doesn’t mean I don’t slowly reveal how the character looks. I like to sprinkle description in dialogue and narrative to slowly build the character over time.
A character sheet is an easy way to record what your character is wearing and some of their physical traits. If you are an artist (lucky) you can sketch them out. By having this quick reference handy while you write you can sprinkle in character description along with dialogue and narrative as beats (i.e. “My hand shot up to the black leather stitching of my eye patch. It was still there.”).
It also lets you keep track of the condition of what they are wearing. This is another continuity issue you can run into. Alpha Reader: “Bro, he fell down a cliff last chapter. Shouldn’t his clothes/gear be messed up now?” Yes Alpha Reader, they should be.
Quick reference for character statistics. While you may have a cement foundation built for how your main character looks and acts, some of those supporting characters may not be as fully developed. Character sheets can allow you to record character statistics (i.e. Strength, Charisma, Intelligence, Dexterity, Constitution).
Maybe you are building a supporting character and aren’t sure what they should look like just yet? Grab some die, give them roll, and start assigning values. What makes D&D fun is the characters are built around luck. When you first generate a character in D&D you had to roll die/dice to determine those statistics, as you play through the game you are now saddled with those traits.
Generate Characters. Maybe you need to make some minions. Here’s an easy way to do it.
Let’s say you are using two six-sided dice. The worst number you could roll would be a 2 and the best would be 12. So if you are determining Strength (can they punch through walls and carry cars), Constitution (do they stay healthy or does a paper cut cause massive infection), Dexterity (how nimble are they), Charisma (can they talk their way out of situations), and Intelligence (master tactician) – you have five statistics to work with.
Roll five times and record the numbers. Then assign those totals to the character however you want. Now you are saddled with a character that is competent at some things, and terrible at others.
Use sheet to record character arc. I recently wrote a post on character arcs here. If you are using character sheets to keep track of your characters you can also record important things that happen to them as you write.
At the close of a chapter I like to scribble down things like, “Drake realizes so-and-so is betraying him.” Doing this gives you a quick reference to look at as you write. You can, at a glance, recall important things that have already happened to a character. This should help you navigate them through the story in a more believable manner.
That’s it for character sheets. For me, I like physical things like character sheets. References and tangible items help me sink into the world I am creating. Often times, having a quick reference to guide me, helps me move my characters in a believable manner. It is also nice when you are managing a host of characters. It can get tough to keep track of everything when we fall into our worlds, tools like this can act like a compass.
Do you use character sheets? Do you have some other method of keeping track of your wandering character? I’d love to hear about it. I’m always looking to improve my craft. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!