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Character Template – Free Download!

January 22nd, 2013 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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Here is a free character template for you to use when planning your own stories. If you don’t yet have a process for sketching out your characters, now’s a great time to start.

Some weeks ago I told you my plan for outlining (and you could download it, too). Part of that plan obviously involved character design. I have since refined that portion and now have a template I work with to get the job done! You can download the character template here:

gmw character template

Click on the image, or the text above to download your Character Template

The basic principles of the character design template

I am always concerned with the amount of planning I do. In truth, I am still finding the balance between not enough planning and planning-turned-procrastination. With that in mind, this character template is designed for focus. The idea is to identify the kernel of the character and work outwards from there just enough to start drafting.

It’s still undergoing testing by me, but it should allow me to get to drafting quickly, without leaving me up the creek without enough information. If you struggle with your characters, I’d love you to give this a go and let me know if it was useful. Feedback is always welcome, and that way we can help each other! Just use the comment section below to tell me what you think.

The focus of the template is the two-word method for creating characters. I have mentioned this before, because as soon as I read it, it seemed to fit what I wanted out of character creation. I first read about this method on K. M. Weiland’s blog, Wordplay, in a post by Nick Thacker. The actual idea originally came from Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain. I summarise the method below, but you should really check out the post for a thorough briefing.


What two words would you use to describe these chaps if they were in your story? Image courtesy of o5com.

How I use the template


I use Scrivener. You may have heard of it from me or countless other writers. It’s a great tool, so it’s no wonder people can’t shut up about it!

If you don’t have it, and don’t want to read about it, you can skip this section.

Creating a template in Scrivener is dead easy:

  1. First, grab the Word version of the character template and open it. Select everything (you can leave out the footer of course) and copy it.
  2. Now open Scrivener and open your project.
  3. If you don’t have a template folder (a blue folder with a white “T”), right-click in your Binder to create a new folder. Select that folder and then go to Project->Set Selection As Template Folder.
  4. Now create a new document in the template folder by right-clicking on it and selecting Add->New Text. Notice the new document will have a little “T” by it to indicate it will be a template.
  5. Name it “Character Sheet” or similar and open it. Paste the text you copied earlier. Check it for formatting, and edit to taste.
  6. Voila! You have a character template in Scrivener! Whenever you want to use it, right-click a folder in your binder and choose Add->New From Template.
Scrivener corkboard feature

That’s the Scrivener Corkboard feature, for example, right there. Very handy.

Templates is just one of many great Scrivener features. If you haven’t already, please check it out! Honestly, I’m not sponsored by them, I just really love the product! For more information on Scrivener templates, see section 8.4 of your Scrivener manual.

Made to order

I have laid out the template in the order I think is best for reference, so it is as useful as possible whilst drafting. But that’s not the order I fill it in!

  1. Start with those all-important two words, Occupation and Manner.
    1. Occupation – the character’s job or career. Like it or not, we are often defined by our jobs. For many of us it’s where we spend the majority of our time and can represent years of study and personal development. It also carries with it a vast amount of data – we associate certain characteristics with certain jobs. So it’s a great shortcut. Don’t worry if your character bucks the trends of their career – you’ll have a chance to mention that later.
    2. Manner – how does the character behave? In one word! I know it’s tough, and that’s partly the point, as it gets you to really focus in and think about your character. I like to free-write a list of candidates for the most defining characteristic, then narrow it down until I have just one.
  2. Now expand! You get to weed out the details just a little. Write a couple of short paragraphs around the two words.
    1. Occupation – Keep it brief, but write out some salient points about your character’s occupation. Maybe you could focus on how they got started, why they love/hate the job, or how it’s relevant to the story for example.
    2. Manner – Again, keep it brief, but explain the one word a little. Does this manner come out more or less in certain situations? How does this affect their role in the story?
  3. And speaking of role, here is where I fill out the bit at the top – one sentence describing the character’s role in the story. I likely have had this in my head from the beginning anyway, so it’s just a matter of getting it down. I leave it ’til now because sometimes my work on the two-word portion has refined my thinking.
  4. Next are the all-important conflicts. I feel like I’ve done most of the important groundwork by this point, and I already have a bunch of conflicts (both internal and external) floating around my noggin. This section is “just in case” I haven’t thought of anything. And even if I have, it’s a good idea to write them down – we know how important conflict is.
  5. I tend to stop here – the notes section is for things I think of during the drafting that I don’t want to forget.

And that’s that! If you’ve never followed some kind of process for your characters, you are now that little bit more organised. Hopefully this will save you some time, and make your planning stage much more predictable.

Over to you:
But maybe you have a process already – I’d love to hear it! Do you plan out every particular of your characters, from the colour of their eyes to their life-history, wing it entirely, or something in between? Enlighten me, and others in the comments!

  • http://www.storybookperfect.com/ Kirstie Olley

    Hi, tried clicking two different links for the word version of the character template and they led me to your (cute customised) 404 error page. I definitely want to add this to my Scrivener templates to help me better define my characters.

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Whoops! Thanks for the heads up. All fixed now.
      I’m thrilled you want to use it – let me know if you find it useful!

      • http://www.storybookperfect.com/ Kirstie Olley

        Thanks, this should help me avoid over-planning (which I think I sometimes do as procrastination).

  • Craig

    I know I’m late in commenting on this (and I talked to you briefly about it anyway), but this is a useful character sheet.

    If I could expand on what I was saying about context – as I’m one of those filthy sci-fi nerds, I do find some elements difficult. I know its easy to adapt this, but as an example: occupation. A good deal of my characters operate outside of ‘the system’. And my other main project has a number of AIs, so their character sheets would be significantly different.

    I think the other thing that I stumbled with was that my main project – as you know, is hella old now, and a lot of it is well established (in my head anyway) so its a little… disconcerting to try and write down these character sheets for already established characters. I know you would say that under those circumstances, I probably wouldn’t need to, since Wasp Whisperer is at an advanced state, but…

    Ok, let me put it this way – though as someone who plans a lot, you’ve probably never had to consider this – would you go back to projects that you’e ‘completed’, look at some of the characters, and fill out this character sheet? Is that more or less challenging that doing so at the start of a project?

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      I don’t know if I would, simply because it might not be necessary. I’m editing an older piece now, and have not done this. I worked out my characters by other means when I was writing it. The character sheet is meant to speed this process up some.

      As with anything in this writing lark, it may depend on the project and the writer if the sheet is any use – we’ve each got to find what’s best for us.