I have noticed an interesting trend in the Netflix original series that I pursue. Right from The Crown to Mindhunter to Stranger Things and Jessica Jones, Season 1 is usually plot heavy. It is like the makers want you to keep clicking on that next button and reach the end. But their Season 2 is character heavy, like they know if you have returned for the second season, you’re already invested in the story and now what they need from you is to actually finish Season 2. And for that they need you to care – about the characters and their journeys, triumphs, and tribulations.

While a plot pushes the story forward, characters are what keep you turning the pages, saying that epic line, “One last, I promise.” This was another thing I heard the Russos mentioning when talking about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They said they didn’t write for the superhero because he’s a straight and narrow guy, who’s boring. They wrote for the character, Steve Rogers, because he is interesting, human and thus vulnerable and subject to doubts, fears and change.

I may be a poor planner, I mean I am no Kevin Feige or Reed Hastings, but characters are something I do spend some time creating – though not nearly as much as I would like.

For me, a character begins as a vague orb of light and not till I name this orb of light does it become corporeal. Names are crucial and I can spend days thinking of the perfect name. For example, the protagonist in my manuscript is a short girl who is a ray of hope for her village and her father is a woodcutter. Hence her name had to be Rey Birch. I wrote a fiction blog post on a man in a village who renounces his queen and then becomes the savior of his folks. I needed a name that would immediately convey to the reader that though he is a common man, he goes onto become a legend. Out popped the name Prachulakta.

Once the character is named, if I am writing a blog post, it stops there because you cannot spend too much time planning a 600-word story. You have to start writing it. If I am writing a novel/novella, the next step is to find a character flaw or some element that defines them. For example, Radha (the bestest character I ever created, after Rey of course) though has a loving home, has a learning difficulty and that informs almost everything he does.

Completing this trifecta is motivation – why does my character decide to leave his/her life behind and enter my plot. Hunter decides to chaperone Lola because he owes her his life. Romeo has no choice but to help Lola because she’s the only family left. Sal only enters the plot because he wants to help his sister Rey.

Physical attributes aren’t important to me – unless they inform me about a character. For example, it is important for me to know Logen Ninefingers is tall and has a crooked nose because it tells me he has been in one too many fights. All his scars are like a history of this character. JKR said she gave Harry glasses because she wanted him to be vulnerable. Rey is small for her age because she is deaf-mute.

All this information is important for the reader. Other than that, I don’t really bother with what my character looks like.

The setting and atmosphere also work great as characters but here you need to be careful on how much time and space you spend on them. Apologies for the blasphemy but Tolkien sometimes spent way too much time on this than was strictly necessary. A good rule to follow here is to ask yourself, does this serve a purpose or am I indulging myself? If you are indulging yourself, you know what to do – hit that delete button even if it pains you.

Question of the day: tell me a favourite character you have read/created. Why is he/she/it your favourite?


The whole of September, I will be sharing posts on things I have learnt about writing. I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa.

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23 thoughts on “How I do character sketches

  1. I quite enjoyed this detailed post on characters. I take characterization very seriously. In fact I differ on one point. I feel the physical attributes, even if it’s just a line help to visualise the character. And that further helps in connecting with the character. That image in the mind is important. Unless it’s a totally inconsequential role…Say a non existent Butler. No??

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    1. Thanks Sonia! As a reader a lack of a physical description doesn’t derail my reading experience. In fact, it hinders it because it messes with the image I have formed in my head. Hence I don’t see the point. And with me, its the opposite. I may go into greater detail of an inconsequential character’s description than a protagonist!

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  2. I personally am not very good with descriptions of scenes and settings. I prefer my short stories character driven and conversation based… definitely with lots of gray in them as opposed to the usual vanilla.

    This was a wonderful read.

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  3. Characterization is a key element in a story. If you can’t imagine and create every nuance of your character, how do you expect your readers to? Very well explained Suchita. A character I created was unnamed yet remains close to my heart, a hard-working bloke from the village who makes it big in the city of dreams. I am rather proud of how the character built up through the story. It was a tragedy that he had to be killed! 😦

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  4. It is a wild chase, creating characters which can connect with the creator and then the readers. I love the way how you described the process of naming the characters and building up their work. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Well I am yet to explore the fiction writing, can’t even dare.. as a reader having a physical description of the character help me a lot relating to it.. if not described I frame a physical appearance in my mind as the story unfolds… I can’t relate to a story without a picture of the characters in my head

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  6. Yes, I completely agree, its a strong point and I loved the way you have explained all the points you keep in mind while sketching a character. Isn’t it true, we remember some stories mainly because we fell in love with the character!

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  7. Though I don’t write stories it was very nice to hear about the way you sketch the characters… and no physical decsription? That is quite interesting…

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  8. Always have been interested in knowing the physical description of the character so this was a new turn for me! Of course the setting, and back story are very important too. I love reading back stories of the character

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  9. While a character sketch will not make it to your novel, it is very important indeed. We can plan out a character properly – fix the physical and psychological descriptions and much more. Because the characters should grow throughout the story too. Otherwise we might get carried away!

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