Lesson-Know your Characters

As a writer, how well do you know your characters? If you get into a DOH! moment, like me especially, I use a tool which helps me out of tight situations like...what was the name of such and such character I used back in chapter 4? It's my character sketches.  I do not do them for all my characters because it's long and involved.  I'm going to share it with you in a minute or two.

Your characters- you have primary, secondary, and what I call the "other" because they are fillers.

"Other Characters" are easy- name, what sex they are, and some really basic information like hair color, eye color and maybe a dialect which makes them stand out in conversation...like southern slang. They are not continuing characters and may only pop up once or twice for interaction, but may be referred to by your primary characters. Think internet friends you have never met.

"Secondary Characters" are a bit more involved.  You still need some basic information and a little bit more. They appear several times in your novel, but are not primary characters. They interact quite often with your character like a partner of a detective.  You don't need to know their life history, but they are more detailed.Think internet friends who you've chatted for years with and may have met once or twice in your life.

"Primary Characters" are fully involved characters. They are your protagonist, their side kick or love interest and your antagonist.  You need to know where they are from, who they are friends/enemies with, what they are thinking and why.  A lot of this information will be considered back story in your novel, but you need to know it. They are your children or spouse. People you see on a daily basis.

For example- I just started a new suspense/southern fiction that I've tentatively titled "Surviving Hank."

Now my basic character line up looks like this-
Main characters
Cassie Reidman- protag-character study
Tommy Gardener- Cassie’s son-secondary character study
Hank Gardener- ex husband-character study
Les Brubacker-the detective-character study
Jeff Smith- his partner-secondary character study, Wills Conners- the lawyer-secondary character study
Skinny Zims- the loan shark, pawnbroker -10-day wait on all firearms, falsified records of when the firearm was in Cassie’s hands.  The killer. Thin as a rail. Antagonist-Character study
Other characters
 Judge Bill Constant 60-ish-lovable, circuit court judge from Dublin.
Mrs. Johnson- 70-ishtown busy body, gossiper, church member
Pastor Gray- pastor of Ridgeline Baptist Church.  45-ish
Maggie Duggins- Cassie’s best friend and coworker
Becky Anderson- Hank’s live in love
Mr. Hanson- grocer
Mr. Kiter- neighbor
Mrs. Montgomery- Tommy’s teacher
Sheriff Buck Nelson- Les’ boss
Stephanie Rogers- another friend of Cassie’s, church member, same age, divorced mother of 3 (twin boys -Robert and Roger same age as Tommy, and daughter Susan, teenager) and neighbor of Cassie
Mrs. Parker- county commissioner’s wife, upper class snob.

Notice I add some details as I write my list and tell myself how involved my character will be and others which will help me write the story. I may add or change characters as I write. Some I may delete entirely.

My protagonist is Cassie Reidman. A primary character. This will be a spoiler for anyone who wants to read this book. This is what my character profile looks like this-
Character Profile Worksheet

Basic Statistics
Name: Cassie Reidman
Age: 35
Nationality: White
Socioeconomic Level as an adult: Poverty level or close to it.
Hometown: Oakville, born and raised.
Current Residence: 46 Madison Street, Oakville, GA at the intersection of Madison and Jackson Avenue
Occupation: Manufactured home builder- insulation team
Income: $467 per week, small inheritance $5K from Grandmother which is almost exhausted from her legal battles with ex-husband.
Talents: hand embroiders wedding dresses
Birth order: Only child
Spouse: Ex husband Hank Gardener, his towards her-openly hostile.  Hers towards him-indifference.
Children (describe relationship): Tommy Gardner, excellent
Grandparents (describe relationship) : both deceased, fantastic relationship with grandmother (Avis) who passed away two years ago of heart attack at age 75, (Jeremy) passed away 20 years ago from industrial accident at Cornerstone Homes, electric saw short-circuited and electrocuted him.
Parents:deceased in car accident ten years ago while driving her to the hospital in labor, Crystal and Henry Reidman, father was professor at Swainsboro Technical College taught welding, mother was homemaker
Significant Others: None, doesn’t date although many have asked. Doesn’t want a repeat of Hank.  Relationship with Les Brubacker after ex’s murder
Relationship skills: Introvert
Physical Characteristics: athletic build, busty, average in looks, muscular arms and legs from running
Height: 5’4”
Weight: 120 lbs
Race: white
Eye Color: blue-gray like storm clouds
Hair Color: mousy brown, short, shaggy hair cut.
Glasses or contact lenses? none
Skin color: pale but slightly tanned during summer
Shape of Face: heart shaped
Distinguishing features: Mole over left lip, considers this a beauty mark. 2” faded scar above right eyebrow from accident which killed her parents.
How does he/she dress? mainly jeans and t-shirts, sundresses and sandals. Has a scandalous black mini dress in the back of her closet which she is afraid to wear.
Mannerisms: Clicks tongue in disgust, rolls eyes in disbelief, will flip her hair back in anger, will run her hands through her short, shaggy hair when frustrated.
Habits: (smoking, drinking etc.) bad habit- occasional drink, a beer with friends.
Health: perfect health, sick with childhood diseases like chicken pox, measles, and mumps.
Hobbies: Healing sick animals, reads romances, loves to cook
Favorite Sayings: “Kiss my grits!” Flo from “Alice” TV show she watched in 1985 as a kid, now empathizes with the Alice character as a single mother. A.A. Milline’s Pooh character, “Oh bother.”
Speech patterns: southern, drops “g” in “ing”, gonna, ain’t, fixin’ to, and a lot of slang
Style: Neat, but not fashionable. Down to Earth.

Greatest flaw: Too big of a heart and can’t say “no.”Graduated from high school only to her father’s disappointment. Wants to get away from Oakville but is afraid of moving.

Best quality: Her smile. Genuine and smiles with her whole body language.  Believes in college for her son. She reads constantly.
Intelligence Level: 12th grade. Well read. Attending college via internet for Business Administration.
Any Mental Illnesses? None except temporary insanity in marrying Hank
Learning Experiences: Take everything you hear with a grain of salt, reserve judgment, treat others like you want to be treated.
Character's short-term goals in life: graduate from business school, see justice done by her ex, survival.
Character's long-term goals in life: How does Character see himself/herself? Cassie sees herself in a dead-end job, too little education to go higher in any career, thinks with a degree she can get a better paying job and helping others.
How is Character perceived by others? She’s wonderful, helpful, dependable
How self-confident is the character? Struggles with confidence issues
Does the character seem ruled by emotion or logic or some combination? Ruled by emotions tempered with logic.
What would most embarass this character? Public scrutiny.
Emotional Characteristics Strengths/Weaknesses: Very introverted, shy, can’t take a compliment. Has conviction that she can graduate from college. She’s a peace maker and avoids conflicts.
How does the character deal with anger?  She mostly outwardly stuffs it and lets it brew inside.
With sadness? She cries then gets angry with herself for crying because it’s a waste of time.
With conflict? Heads it off at the beginning most times, but mostly tries to avoid conflicts at any cost.  She’s a coaster.
With change? With loss? Heart sick with loss. Avoids change with fear
What does the character want out of life? A better life for her son. Graduate from college. Really wants to be a vet, but settles for working with people.
What would the character like to change in his/her life? Of course wouldn’t everyone?
What motivates this character? Her son and hurt animals.
What frightens this character? Death and leaving her son to be raised by his father.  She hates fire.  She hates guns, but buys one as a last resort.
What makes this character happy? She takes pride in her son’s accomplishments, is embarrassed by her own, cooking a new recipe and it coming out perfect,
Is the character judgmental of others? No. The only exception is her ex husband and that’s more making him do right by his son.
Is the character generous or stingy? Too generous
Is the character generally polite or rude? Very polite to all
Spiritual Characteristics?  Christian believer.  Has firm faith and foundation. Prays, attends church, studies her bible, active participant in church functions.
Favorite book genre- historical romance, action, murder mysteries.
Favorite author- Barbara Taylor Bradford & Anya Seton
Favorite music/artist- Contemporary Christian- Third Day & Jars of Clay
Character’s Position in story- Protagonist
          Scene where character first appears: 1st chapter POV

Relationships with other characters:
1. Hank Gardener: -- Her ex husband, married in lust and then found his true nature and left while newly pregnant with their son. Actually, she wants nothing to do with him.  She just wants him to abide by the court ordered child support of $50 a week.  This is a necessity in her life to pay bills.  Deadbeat dad. He is murdered.
2. Tommy Gardner: -- son.  Cherishes him, but does not spoil him. Reprimands with firm hand and earns respect from him. Loving and protecting from his dead-beat dad.  Is 5’4” tall until confronted with something which hurts her son and then can be 10’ tall and in your face.
3. Les Brubacker: -- Detective with Johnson County sheriff’s office investigating the murder of Hank Gardner.  She is attracted to him, but she is also the suspect of her ex husband’s murder.
4. Wills Conners: -- Cassie’s attorney.  He’s made a mint in all the contempt charges Cassie has brought against her husband in the past ten years.  Relationship is friendly and good. He constantly asks her for dates.

Yes, this is a long involved process, but as you read this full character study, you know how this character will react to any given situation. You also have a pretty good idea of where your story is going. Hope this helps you in your writing endeavors.