Sketching stories

I had this idea at the NJRW conference to take elements from my Writing Hot workshop and devise a new sort of workshop, one on characters.

I’m not, by nature, a plotter.

The way I learned plotting (my way of doing it, at least) was by doing character sketches.

My first attempt at a character sketch came from two places, and I built on it from there.

I was visiting Lora Leigh years ago and she mentioned how she uses pictures just to keep her characters looking different.  It seemed like a good idea…I kept making my heroines red-headed.  I like red hair.  But all of my heroines can’t be redheads. So I started doing that, kind of using one of her templates that she’d given me for just sketching out the rough outline of a character.

Then I was playing around with Lynn Viehl‘s Novel Writing Notebook-for you in depth plotters?  Get this.  This may be right up your alley.

It’s too in depth for me, but some aspects of the Novel Writing Notebook, and Lynn’s 3 questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you want?
  • What is the worst thing I can do to you?

Helped me figure out what I need to know about my characters, even before I start writing.

My stories come from my characters.  I usually know them first, and once I know them, it’s like they just want to tell me their story.

Take for example…

Damon. (from my Kit Colbana books).

The rough beginning of book 1, titled dead men tell no tales, sat on my hard drive for over a year.  I had about 10k of the story down. I knew what I wanted to do.  I thought. I had a love interested for Kit.  His name was Damon.  He was a white guy, really cool, played a sidekick kinda of part and they fell madly in love, almost from the beginning.

That was the plan.

And the book stalled.

I didn’t know my characters.

Then, I was on twitter. Lightning strike came in the form of this:

Damon Johnson, Image courtesy of IMDB

Dwayne Johnson.  He was on twitter and I think what did it was the way he’d been chatting with some of his fans.  I’d been thinking about that book–again–and he said something to a fan, referring jokingly to himself, He’s an asshole.

It’s a weird way a writer can get a lightning strike.

But I went back and looked at the book.  Then I hit the internet and looked at some pictures of Dwayne Johnson.

Thought about my character Damon some more.

Thought about Kit.


Who are you?  

Well. Damon’s an ass.

What do you want?  

If you want to know that, you have to read the book.

What’s the worst thing I can do you…

Again, read the book. 😉

Then I flipped those Qs around, put Damon in the equation…as I was starting to see him now, and asked Kit those questions.  A whole new story came into view, and more questions.

In the end, what I had was the story.  I had Blade Song and it was written within a week.

The questions I had weren’t really for Damon so much, not this early in the series, but I did need to know more about him.  Initially, the way I’d written him was all wrong.  He wasn’t laid-back and easy-going.  He was, in short, an asshole.  I didn’t know, exactly, what he wanted, although half through book 1, I figured it out.

But as I was making notes and writing in a frenzy, I learned who Kit was. I What she wanted is too complicated to explain in one sentence, but she has a mission and she has goals and the story evolves from there.

Although more often than not, my notes for characters end up on pinterest, or scattered inside my head, the basically boil down to something like this…


Character image (use a blank area to add your character image…keep in mind, images are copyrighted.  I make online sketches, use private boards on pinterest or buy magazines and cut things out)







Eye & Hair color





Currently resides








Who is s/he? (Note, this isn’t about her name… but who she is… is she writer, a lost soul, an artist, a scared kid…who is she on the inside.  Like me, I’m a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a reader, a writer, a child of God, a brat and a troublemaker)

Mission? (a reason or being here?)


Any enemies?


What does s/he want? Why can’t s/he have it?


If you aren’t a plotter, but you feel like you have a good handle on your characters, or if you want to start trying to go down that road, this is what helped me.

I’ve got a a doc file if anybody is interested in using it.  Permission to re-use granted, although crediting it back to me is nice if you share it with others.