Character Sheet Template for Fiction Writing

Character sheets can be a great way of brainstorming and organizing information about characters. Especially in a book or book series in which there are many characters or certain characters that appear infrequently, it can be an extremely helpful reference for maintaining continuity. In this post, I’m going to lay out some tips for designing your own character sheet and also provide mine as a sample to use if you would like it.

I recently took some time to develop a template that’s specifically tailored to the fantasy/sci fi series I’m writing. Whereas in the past, I had looked up and copied from other examples, making adjustments on an as-needed basis, this time I really sat down and thought about my characters and what’s important to know about them. Because I had a number of characters already well-fleshed out, thinking about how I would describe them really helped me come up with categories I could use more broadly. One of my characters, for example, is left-handed, which is important to a particular scene, and writing that on her character sheet made me realize the dominant hand of other characters could make a difference in certain action scenes and would be helpful to note down.

I use character sheets both as a way to remember information about a character (what color were those eyes?) and as a way to ask myself questions about a new or underdeveloped character. Because of this, it can be really helpful to have categories for everything I want. Because I reference them often, however, it also helps to not have categories I don’t often make use of.

I find it also helps to have the information I search for most often display at the top. I arranged it so that in Scrivener, my preferred word processor, I can see it all without scrolling. Once I do scroll, I see the sort of detailed information that I might need to reference but that I more often use when fleshing out a character. Finally, I have references to their relationships with other characters, which can be a jumping off point to another character sheet. These are all good things to consider when making your own sheet.

…but if you want to copy mine, feel free to do so. You will notice that the last two sections are very specific to my particular fictional world, though. You may also notice other information that you won’t be filling in very often for your particular characters, like political party, which matters more in my story because it has characters deeply involved in politics.

I recommend using my template as a jumping off point, something to get you started as you think about what would best suit your particular needs. Everyone has a name, gender, age, and so on, but beyond that, consider your book and your characters. What do you want to know about them? What details do you often forget when writing a scene with a character you haven’t depicted in a while? What character traits are important in your fictional world that wouldn’t be in my template at all? These are the questions that will truly help you create the character sheet of your dreams. Good luck!

My Template

Identity
Name:
Reason for Name:
Nickname/Alias/Code Name:
Reason for Nickname:
Gender:
Orientation:
Religion/Moral Philosophy:
Political Party:

Current Situation
Job Title/School Level:
Lives:
Economic Class:

Appearance
Age:
Hair:
Eyes:
Skin color:
Height:
Weight:
Face:
Body:
Dominant Hand:
Favorite/Most Common Outfit:

Background
Hometown:
Cultural Heritage:
First Language:
Historical Events Witnessed:
Important Life Events:
Regrets:

Skills
Professional Qualifications:
Talents:
Languages:

Qualities
Disabilities/Allergies/Chronic Illnesses:
Strengths:
Weaknesses:

Desires
Primary Yearning:
Goals:
Wishes:
Dream Job:

Favorites

Other
Fears:
Secrets:
Habits:
Hobbies:

Family
Parent 1:
Parent 2:
Siblings:
Children:
Other:

Relationships
Friends:
Enemies:
Significant Other/Partner:
Crush:
Exes:

Magic
Tier Level:
Specialty Spells:
Amount of Allied Magic:
First Spell:
Arrested For:

Tech
Implants:
Genetic Modifications:

How I Use Scrivener for Novel Writing

I’ve used a few different types of writing software over the years. The first program I used was simply the only option available to me at the time: Microsoft Word. It was the early 2000’s, and my family had one desktop computer and no internet access. Microsoft Word was the program I’d been taught to use in school, and I still use it often. It has the advantage of familiarity, which leads to ease of usability, but it also has some disadvantages when it comes to working on a novel.

As I began working on long form fiction more and more, I found myself getting into the habit of saving multiple versions of the same piece. Towards the end of my time using it this way, I had taken to a naming system reminiscent of software versioning. I had Working Title 1.0 and Working Title 1.1 and Working Title 2.0 and so on for as many different rewrites as I had wanted to create as separate documents. I didn’t want to delete my first draft, especially because I often wanted to just experiment with changes. I often created a version 1.1 in order to try a new approach, only to abandon it because it didn’t pan out. Later, when I did a full rewrite, it became version 2.0, but I didn’t want to delete my experiments either. They often had something about them that I still wanted to find a way to incorporate, and sometimes they had helped give me a better understanding of the characters or the world that I wanted to be able to go back and reference. The problem, of course, was that it became annoyingly difficult to keep track of which version was which, especially when returning to a project after a long break.

Another annoyance was that the files became so large that it was difficult to find the part I wanted to edit. Search functionality exists in Word, but often I couldn’t remember the exact wording of a specific phrase, and searches for character names or other commonly occurring words brought back many results to sift through. It certainly didn’t prevent me from working on my novel, but it did make the process more cumbersome.

Eventually, I shifted into using Google Docs, which has automatic version history, as well as features for easy collaboration. I still use this when I’m seeking feedback from a beta reader, but I no longer use it for versioning. Automatic is nice, but it results in so many versions that it again becomes difficult to keep track of which is which. I realize that it is possible to name certain versions, and I probably could make better use of it if I made the effort, but even then it would be inferior to the versioning capabilities that I found in Scrivener.

Version history in Google Docs, showing time stamps for each version of the document

Here in Google Docs, you can see that the document has been saved each time I’ve made changes to it. Times and dates are saved by default, and I can choose to name any that I choose to.

Version history in Scrivener, showing time stamps with titles for each

Here in Scrivener, on the other hand, I choose when I want to save a version. The time and date are filled in automatically, and I am prompted to add a title.

The biggest difference, however, is that Google Docs saves off a version of your entire document. Scrivener saves off a version of your individual chapter or scene. This particular image shows the versions (called snapshots) that I’ve taken of just chapter two of my current novel. The first snapshot shows me trying out a different character perspective. The second shows me keeping track of the version that I had sent to a beta reader as part of my official third draft. Any time I want to do so, I can restore an old version or click into it for reference, and it will affect only the one small part of the novel that I’m looking at. This is very different from Google Docs, in which I would often find myself scrolling through the entire document to find the changes when comparing to an older version. I also find that having to create the snapshots manually ensures that I actually do it when I want to start some major changes, rather than saying, “Ah, it’s saved off automatically, let’s just keep going.”

Since I started using Scrivener, I’ve actually been surprised at how much easier and more pleasant the writing experience has become simply because of having each chapter and scene split out into separate pieces that can easily be compiled together into one whole. I don’t just title my snapshots. I title my scenes, labeling them with the most important thing that happens in them. That way, when I get an idea for an improvement I could make to “that one part where…”, I can find it within seconds. I can keep even better track of things by adding keywords, labels, custom meta-data, and more.

An example of a chapter in the corkboard view of Scrivener. The chapter is shown as a notecard with labels and text.
Chapter One of my current novel, as seen in Scrivener

Here you can see my preferred setup, in which every chapter is represented by a folder and each folder contains one or more scenes. In this view, you can see each scene in the chapter visually represented by a notecard, which has a short synopsis of events, a label that I created to show which character the scene is focused on, a status that lets me easily find the parts I have flagged for updates, and keywords that I use to show which character’s perspectives are included. Because my book is told by an omniscient narrator and has many characters, I often find it helpful to be able to pick out the one character I’ve made a change to and hop through every part he or she is included in to make sure they’re consistent. Features like this make it easy to do exactly the kind of revisions that I want.

Another advantage to this format is that rearranging scenes and chapters is just as easy as a click and drag. No more scrolling through and highlighting multiple pages just to cut and paste. This is another thing that’s saved me more time and effort than I ever would have thought of, and it’s the little things like this that really add up. Since making the switch, I’ve found that every little annoyance I’ve taken out has increased the time that I spend working on my novel, simply because I’m enjoying myself more while I’m doing it.

Another thing that has increased time spent working on my novel is the fact that there are so many things related to my novel that I can work on from within the same file. From labeling, planning, and organizing to creating character sheets and notes related to worldbuilding, even when I’m not in the mood to write I can be making progress on something. And the real secret? Sometimes just working on a character sheet is enough to put me in the mood to write, and then the novel is right there, just one click away. Conversely, if I’m working on the novel and can’t remember how tall a particular character is compared to another or what the name of so-and-so’s second child was, I can pull up the character sheet with just one click and get right back to what I was doing.

A character sheet in Scrivener. Seen on the side are other types of notes.
A character sheet that I created in Scrivener

Scrivener lets you create different categories for your notes, create templates for things like character sheets, and generally store anything you want to keep track of. I have notes on all my characters, lists of magic spells and enchantments, a complete timeline of events, a family tree, a reference for a complicated plan that some villainous characters have in secret, and more. I even use this as a place to store the query, pitch, and synopsis that I created for querying agents, which is very helpful.

Honestly, I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the things Scrivener is capable of doing. It takes some time to learn, but I found that I was so excited by each new feature I discovered that the process felt like playing more than anything else. If you pick up on software really quickly the way I do, I think you’ll love how robust it is and how many options it gives you. I was wary to spend the money on it at first, especially when options like Google Docs are free, but I really have not been disappointed in it. It fits exactly with my writing preferences, and I would really recommend it to anyone who has a similar workflow to mine.

The Binding of Magic

In the computational monarchy of Elniwald, unlicensed witchcraft is a crime punishable by death. Eighteen-year-old neo-pacifist Tim, who has spent the past thirteen years hiding in the palace basement, is forced to stop a pair of bullets in midair when political assassins set their sights on his beloved older sibling. Using powerful magic, Tim teleports an entire crowd of witnesses to safety, disables the assassins’ weapons, and ensures that his sister is able to escape, but the resulting power drain leaves him completely vulnerable to an unforgiving police force.

Shiloh Alexandria Gesenden, heir to the throne, uses her influence and technological savvy to protect him, but she’s forced to strike a terrible bargain with their father the monarch in order to save his life. Tim is sentenced to imprisonment in a so-called school of magic, cut off from all contact with the outside world and subjected to a series of escalating punishments designed to force him into becoming what normal people think a warlock should be: old fashioned, obedient, and weak enough to be dominated. When he meets an unfailingly kind rebel named Talia, the two of them combine their magic and hatch a plot to trick their way to freedom, but the sadistic witch who controls the licensing process is playing a game of her own.

The Binding of Magic is not the first novel I’ve ever worked on, but it is the first that I have been able to revise to the point that I feel really good about it. Truthfully, I’ve been planning and writing novel-length works since junior high, and by the time I’d started high school my friends had stopped believing that I would ever really finish any of them. I had an idea for a series then, and I rewrote the first book of it again and again, often restarting all over again well before I reached the ending. Eventually, I reached a point at which I recognized that the story was as good as I could make it, and I was able to feel a certain fondness for the two short novels that I ended up with, but I knew that I still had a lot to learn before I would be ready to actually publish anything.

Fast forward over ten years, and I once again find myself in the grips of a story that I can’t let go. The Binding of Magic started off as a short exercise for one of my college writing courses, one among many that I wrote during that time. It depicted Tim–a wizard at that time–imprisoned in a school for magic that he was utterly fed up with. It was trying to teach him magic in all of the wrong ways, and he was not having it. He set an ancient book on fire because he was tired of being forced to read the sort of thing that wizards were supposed to read. He turned one of his supervisors into a frog when he came in to scold him. He finished by making the entire castle explode in a burst of bubblegum pink (It’s ok; he teleported everyone outside first. His friend Talia got to hold a frog in her arms while she glared at him).

As it was written at that time, Tim was showing off a bit too much of the rebellious teenager trope, but he was quite the character, and he had some interesting points about trying to force a strict logical and academic framework around something so magical as, well, magic. Why should anyone be forced to follow someone else’s rules for how to properly do something that comes as naturally to them as breathing? Why should anyone have to change something so natural just because it doesn’t fit with others’ desires and expectations? These are the types of thoughts that rooted themselves deep into my brain and caused me to come back to the story again and again.

Initially, I attempted to simply expand the story beyond the point at which the original exercise had left off. I let Tim reunite with his sister Sasha and make grand plans for reforming and revolutionizing the field of magical studies. I had Talia pop up to scold him for thinking that he could do all of it without her. And yet I didn’t know, in the end, where the story was really going. One of my classmates had also pointed out (probably correctly) that having a protagonist gleefully engage in book burning did not send the best message. Tim needed to grow up a little, and I needed more experience.

The book in its current form has retained a lot of the same ideas from the original: Tim still finds himself imprisoned in a castle, tasked to learn the “proper way” of doing magic, but this time he would never dream of using his magic in a way that would put anybody else at risk. Talia still becomes his closest friend, but her role in the story has been greatly expanded, and her character along with it. Sasha has become Shiloh, an older sibling, not a younger one, but they still spend the story trying to get back to each other. Perhaps the most important change is that it’s no longer so easy for anyone to make an entire castle explode. Magic has limits now, and the characters face true struggles. I found out what was leaving me directionless.

I’ve learned a lot since then, and these characters and the world in which they live have spent all these years swirling around my brain, developing and gaining new complexity. The only thing that I was ever hoping for, back when I set out to be a writer, was to gain the ability to actually take the wonderous imaginings inside my head and translate them onto a page. I would always be trying, and I would always be disappointed in the results. They were always missing something. They always had something about them that was not quite right or just not good enough. Now that I finally feel confident enough to seek publication, I can only hope that readers get a glimpse into this world that I have worked so long to bring to life. I hope they fall in love with these characters in the same way I have.

Elniwald awaits.