How to Create a New Character Sketch Template for Scrivener

The default character sketch template in Scrivener works well enough if you want to track a few key details about the characters in your novel. It can also be edited to add more information or take it away. But have you ever wanted to just start from scratch and create a brand-new template of your own that works exactly the way you like it? This post will show you how.

The first thing to do, of course, is consider what you want your new template to look like. One thing I knew starting out was that there were many things I didn’t like about the Scrivener default template. For one thing, it has headings in bold, which seems just fine until you try to add text and find that it also appears in bold. For example, if you type “Protagonist” after “Role in Story:”, it appears in the exact same font and formatting, meaning headings don’t look like headings at all! For a while, I went to the trouble of highlighting the text I’d added and manually readjusting, but that’s a hassle I don’t need in my life. I decided the best thing to do was to have bold headings on a separate line, with secondary headings beneath it in the same font I would use for adding information. Now I have a bold header for “Identity” with lines beneath like “Name:” and “Gender:”. Much better.

One tip I did take from Scrivener’s default, though, is that you can set the Synopsis section to display a picture instead of text. While this section might typically display an overview of events in a particular scene, here it can be used as a reference photo. For those wondering how to do this, simply look for the up and down arrows in the Synopsis section and click the image as opposed to the notecard.

The synopsis section of Scrivener, showing the option to select an image to display instead of text.

Additional reference photos, documents, and links can be added in the Document References section below, so it’s important to consider what you’d like in the main section of your template as opposed to what could optionally be added here. If you’re not sure how to do this, click the plus sign with the downward arrow. I used the “Look Up & Add External Reference” option because I had images saved to my hard drive. “Create External Reference” can also be used to link to a web page, but I prefer not to use this for anything I can download because websites can change or disappear. I tend to use it instead for links to sites I often use for writing purposes, like favorite baby name sites.

Here’s an example sheet for one of my characters that includes an image of her favorite hairstyle on top and reference photos for the uniform she wears below.

An example of a character sheet in Scrivener, showing character information, synopsis image, and links to reference photos

To open the linked references, I like to right click and use “Open in Default Editor” so that the image comes up in a separate window I can close when finished.

If you want more tips about how to come up with categories for your template or to see a full sample of my template, check out my previous post on creating character sheets for fiction writing.

Once you’re ready to create the template, go down to the Templates section and create a plain document. After that, you can name it, change its icon, and style it up however you want.

Creating a new text document in Scrivener

It’s just that easy! Now, whenever you want to use it, you can create a document as “New From Template” and select the one you made. Use it for as many characters you want and enjoy!

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 to Get Super Critter on Critique Circle

If you’ve spent time on Critique Circle, you’ve probably seen authors or critiquers with a star symbol next to their usernames. If you hover over it, you see that these people are Super Critters, but what exactly does that accomplishment mean? What does it take to be awarded it?

Well, a large part of the answer has to do with the progress bar you see on your dashboard (the page you get to by clicking the Critique Circle logo from any other page). You can see in the example above that my current progress for the month of May is 8,228 words. That means I’ve written 8,228 words’ worth of critiques during the current month. At the end of the progress bar is an orange star symbol, exactly like the Super Critter badge, and that’s because if you reach that goal (12,000 words) and have a grade of at least three stars (as shown right above), you get the badge for the remainder of the month and all of the following month.

So what does that mean in a nutshell? Anyone who has the badge has done a lot of critiquing for other users of the site in the past month or so. Maybe they’ve written forty critiques of three hundred words apiece. Maybe they’ve written twelve very in-depth critiques of a thousand words apiece. Likely the answer is somewhere in the middle, as not all critiques are the exact same length. Some people tend shorter while others tend longer, and for some it depends on what they’re critiquing.

Hopefully, though, you’re putting more time and effort into longer critiques rather than padding out the word count, and that’s where the grade comes into play. When you write a critique for someone, they will usually grade it on a five-star scale. One star is typically reserved for really problematic critiques, like the kind that get reported. Two stars is for unhelpful, and if you try to game the system, I wouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself with this sort of low rating.

While there probably are other ways, I wouldn’t recommend doing anything other than what I did to get this badge: honestly trying to help other writers. When I first joined the site, I wasn’t critiquing very often, but the more I got into it, the more writers I wanted to help out consistently or return the favor to after they helped me. I never thought I would end up critiquing that much; it just happened. I try to critique submissions where I feel that I truly have something helpful to contribute, and when that’s the case I naturally tend to go into detailed feedback.

I do think I had a bit of an advantage from having participated in workshops during my college days, as well as having spent significant amounts of time giving feedback to other amateur writers outside this site, but I think for anyone the key is doing your best and knowing your limits. If you try to give advice on something you don’t truly understand, you’re not doing anyone a favor. If, on the other hand, you take the time to understand your strengths as a reader/writer, you can use those to help someone who might be weaker in those areas.

For example, I once critiqued a short story whose author was looking for people with computer programming experience to give insight into whether the fictional artificial intelligence was written realistically. I topped easily over a thousand words just pointing out what wasn’t quite accurate in how the AI was being programmed and explaining what might work better based on my personal experiences. That sort of help is almost always appreciated, and many other writers appreciate simply getting feedback about what your reactions are as you’re reading and whether you’re engaged or feeling a certain emotion or getting bored or confused. And if you are more experienced, there’s a whole world of other advice you can get into, whether it’s giving suggestions to make a sentence sound better or talking about plot and pacing and characterization.

In short, it takes time and dedication. I would argue, though, that the reward is not the badge itself but the relationships you build along the way. A little icon of a star isn’t worth anything if you put in the bare minimum to get it and everyone you critiqued for knows it. For me, it’s about the satisfaction of a job well done, giving back to the people who’ve helped me and hopefully helping other writers get just a little farther on their journey to improvement.

Using Excel Timelines for Fiction Writing

If you own Excel and are looking for a way to store a timeline of events for your novel, this is the guide for you! I’m going to outline two different methods and show how examples tailored specifically to writers. Note that I’m using Excel 365, the latest subscription version.

The First Option

The first method is the easiest I found, which makes use of pre-made graphics. What you want to do is go to the Insert tab, click Illustrations, and then select SmartArt.

Selecting the SmartArt option in Excel

From here, you can choose the graphic that you want. I recommend either the Circle Accent Timeline or the Basic Timeline, shown next to it. Both of these are found under Process.

An Excel window showing the options for SmartArt Graphics

With the Circle Accent timeline, you can use different levels of a bulleted list to show events in different ways. I used three levels, the first one representing the date, the second one representing major events that happened that day, and the third level giving additional details for those events as necessary. Some details here are more vague than they truly would be, in the interest of not giving away more than the basic opening of my book, but I’m sure you can see how you might make use of it for your own novel.

A timeline showing the events of two days with diagonal text next to representative circles

The Basic Timeline works the same way, but shows things in a different format, with an arrow and more bullet points. It might be better suited to more simple timelines than the one I have in this example. If you just want all of the events in order, without keeping track of how many days have passed since certain things happened, you can probably do away with the dates and list each event as a separate, top-level bullet instead.

A timeline with an arrow shape and bullets beneath each point on it

The Second Option

The second method is more complicated, but, in my opinion, much more useful for long and detailed timelines. It gives so much more functionality than the basic option, and once I figured out how to use it, I loved it.

It starts with putting all of your events into a standard Excel table. Make sure you include headers. This will matter later on down the line. I recommend having at least a column for date and a column for the events. I also added a column for characters and a column for sequence of events within the day, which you’ll also see the usefulness of later.

If you want to be able to insert a timeline later, you should format the date as a real date as opposed to what I did here, however. Go for something like August 17, 2022.

An Excel table, containing columns for date, character, event, and sequence

What you want to do next is highlight the table, go to Insert, click PivotTable, and select From Table/Range.

Inserting a PivotTable

This will open a popup with the range of data (if you highlighted everything, this will be prefilled for you) and a few other options. I recommend just going with the default and hitting OK.

This will open a new sheet, with a little window on the side called PivotTable Fields. This is where your table headers should be showing. Clicking the checkmark next to all of them will add them to a table that gets automatically created for you. You can then click and drag them to create the order that things get shown in. You can now see that my sequence column is ensuring that each event shows in the proper order of the things that happened to that character on that day. I had to click and drag it from the Values to the Rows, so if you’re doing the same thing, you should expect that step as well.

A PivotTable of all the events, ordered by date, then sequence, then character

A Grand Total shows up by default, which doesn’t make sense for this type of data. You can get rid of it by going to the Design tab on the top of the screen, clicking Grand Totals, and selecting the option to turn them off.

Now I’m going to show you why I made a column for character. There’s actually an option with this type of table to filter based on whatever column you want. Because I created one for character, I can now focus in on what happened just to that character over the course of the book or over the course of their life if I want to include backstory (and you know I do!).

This is done by adding what Excel calls a Slicer. Go to PivotTable Analyze at the top (make sure you’ve clicked on the table if you can’t see it), and select Insert Slicer.

Inserting a Slicer in Excel

This brings up a popup that allows you to select the column(s) you want to be able to filter by. I selected character, and just like that I gained the ability to select the one I want to see and have the table update for me. You can also select multiple characters at once using the Multi-Select option, which looks like a little checklist. Or you can hold down Shift while clicking on an additional character.

A PivotTable filtered by character

Now then, I promised a timeline, didn’t I? From this point, you can insert one, although it will work much differently from the first option I showed. Instead of giving you a graphic with all the events listed along it, it actually works a lot like the slicer. It allows you to select a certain date or period of time and focus in on only the events that happened then.

To add one, just go back to PivotTable Analyze and click on Insert Timeline.

The Insert Timelines popup for PivotTable

The popup will prompt you to select the date column. After hitting OK, you’ll have a little box where you can view by years, quarters, months, or days. You can select the day/month/quarter/year you want or click and drag to select a range. In the example here, I’ve selected only August 17th.

An example of selecting a date using the timeline box for PivotTables

And there’s the basics! There are plenty of other options for you to explore if you would like. For example, you could check out the filtering capabilities next to the Row Labels heading by clicking on the funnel image. If you decide you don’t need these, you can have Row Labels not display at all by turning off Field Headers under the PivotTable Analyze tab. Similarly, if you don’t need to be able to collapse and expand things using the +/- boxes, you can turn that off in the same place.

Conclusion

Feel free to play around and create what works best for you and for your novel. As for me, I think I’m going to use this PivotTable with days of the week and made-up years (because my novel doesn’t take place in the world we know) and seed out all the character backstory information I could ever want. Because my novel doesn’t focus on just one character, this is going to be incredibly useful for me as I try to ensure consistency. Hopefully you’re able to find a method that works for you and the book you’re trying to write as well!

Critique Circle: The Benefits and Drawbacks

Critique Circle is a website that gives writers an opportunity to get critiques on their work in exchange for giving other writers critiques on their work. It is free to use, but it also has a premium option that you can pay for in order to unlock special features.

How does it work? In a nutshell, you earn credits by giving critiques of short pieces that have been submitted for review. The number of credits you earn depends on the length of the piece. You can then spend credits in order to submit one of your own pieces for review by others. If you submit a piece, it will be added to a waiting list, and you will have to wait until pieces that were submitted before yours are given their chance to receive critiques first. In my experience, this is typically a few weeks at most.

I think the largest benefit of this system is that it incentivizes its users to give critiques to one another. In other aspects of my life, it has been far too many times that I have taken time to read and edit or give suggestions to a writer friend or an acquaintance, only to struggle to find anyone at all who is willing to do the same when I am looking for a bit of feedback. In general, I do enjoy helping other people with their writing, especially when I feel as though I’ve been able to contribute some high quality insights, but of course it is difficult to improve as a writer if you never receive any feedback on your own work. When I submitted pieces to Critique Circle, I got five or six critiques for each of them, most of them quite detailed and a few that definitely helped me see areas in need of improvement.

The largest drawback is that you never know who is going to be reading and critiquing for you. You could get advice from one of the most helpful and experienced users or you could get it from someone who is a complete amateur. Similarly, you can get critiques that are written in a very positive and friendly way and critiques that are written in a very critical way. This can be difficult to handle if you have thin skin, and it can be frustrating if you feel as though you’ve received a piece of advice that is unhelpful or even wrong.

This leads into the second of the drawbacks that I have personally experienced: when attempting to get feedback on a novel using the free version, you are more than likely to get critiques on your second chapter from users who haven’t read your first. I tried to alleviate this problem by providing a summary of all the events of the first chapter that were directly relevant to the second, but I was frustrated to find critiques from people who complained that they were confused about something that had, in fact, been explained in the summary. To be fair, this may be a larger problem with books that involve a large amount of world building, as opposed to genres that would theoretically be easier to pick up from the middle. I also found that I experienced the problem of people not reading the summary much less once I started getting critiques from more experienced members more often, but it was a large frustration for me in the beginning.

If you become a premium member, though, you can solve this problem by recruiting members to join a group that will focus on your novel specifically. The premium member also has the ability to determine who can join the group, which solves the first problem as well. Premium membership also gives you the ability to give and receive critiques on an entire manuscript rather than on short chunks at a time. The downside to this, of course, is that it costs a monthly fee.

I used the free version for a long time before trying the paid version, and I think both have benefits and drawbacks. The question of whether to pay for it or not comes down to the individual writer and what they are looking to get out of the site. Personally, I would recommend starting with the free version to get a feel for things and also to build relationships with other users. Even if a private queue appeals to you, you’ll have to know who to invite into it. Unless you joined the site with a group of writer friends, how else will you know who gives good critiques except by receiving some in the public queues?

On top of that, there are some features that are friendly to new members, enabling your work to receive critiques more quickly than members who have been around for longer, and I’ve found that really understanding how the system works is a good way to get the most out of it.

My biggest tip to those who plan to use the site? Strive to give good quality critiques to others. Many people will return the favor when it comes to be your turn. Besides that, there is a system in which writers can grade how helpful a critique was to them, and users who critique often and score over a certain average can get special badges that show up next to their names. You can bet that there are people on the site who will choose to give critiques to those who have given good critiques to others! Be a good person: give the best advice that you can give. If you want to be a very good person, go back and read the previous chapter(s) before critiquing the current one. It won’t get you any extra credits, but I’m sure the author will appreciate it. Sites like this work best when everyone involved is kind and generous.

I wish the best of luck to all other aspiring writers out there! Feel free to shoot me a message if you decide to join based on my recommendation. If I like the looks of what you’ve written, I might just give you a crit.