October 1, 2014
So, I taught a workshop last weekend! And it went pretty well, I think. I talked about a lot of stuff, and I promised my students I would post one of the checklists I mentioned, but didn’t have a print out for. (See, every workshop I learn a lot about what works, and I incorporate that into the next one. I’m really getting to like slide shows and handouts.)
This is a character checklist, but a much more useful one that the one that goes “What is your character’s favorite food?” Because I worry that the “vital statistics” type checklists I’ve seen in some “how to write” books trick us into including information in our stories that isn’t actually necessary, while forgetting more pivotal details like Why is your character doing this stuff in the first place. So yeah, I’ve never really done “What is your character’s favorite color?” type characterization surveys, and instead think a lot about “How did my character get into this situation and what personality trait is going to get her out?”
So, here’s a character and plot checklist I’ve adapted from the course materials from the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, by Jeanne Cavelos. (Yes, sixteen years later I still have all my course materials from Odyssey and I still use them.) Jeanne has put a ton of writing information and resources on the Odyssey website — and Odyssey even sponsors online workshops, if you’re interested in more in-depth work. So, without further ado, a character checklist:
Character Checklist (from Jeanne Cavelos & Odyssey):
- Does your character grow out of the setting in which he was raised? What is his relationship with the setting? Does he have any effect on it?
- Is the reader “shown” the character through powerful, concrete sensory details that allow him to visualize the person and his actions?
- Are small and large actions, appearance, and dialogue the main sources of revelation of character?
- Is what you tell us about the character consistent with what you show about the character?
- Are all the details included significant, or is there extraneous detail or information?
- Are there any generic elements in your character? If this character is an archetype, have you made him individual and specific?
- Does the character have some “consistent inconsistencies?”
- Have you researched necessary areas to be able to write about such a character?
- Does the character’s personality have an effect on the plot?
- Does the character have a clear central desire? Why does he want this? Is this desire integrated into the plot? Do we know what set this desire off, and how it is finally resolved? Does the character have something important at stake in the conflict?
- Does the character have clear opinions about what’s going on around him?
- Does the character enhance or embody symbols or themes in the story?
- Does the character change?