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Examples of character sketches? (1 Viewer)

Questionable

Senior Member
I struggle a lot with staying succinct and saying only what I need to when I get to describing a character. Does anyone have some good examples of character sketches/overviews to use when presenting an idea for a character to an audience? You know - "not too much, not too little" type of stuff. Something to entice, give description, and link them to how the story plays out without going on for 50 pages like I would.

I'd like to be able to present my ideas but can't help feeling that I get too involved with developing backstory that while useful for maintaining a consistent motivational system for the character, isn't truly necessary for anyone wishing to help identify good or bad traits to see. There's always a ton I want to talk about because I get excited and I like the characters I've made, but knowing when to stop is hard for that reason.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Here's one of my favourite character sketches from one of the Poldark novels:

Dorothy Johns, Cousin William-Alfred's wife, had been caught between her pregnancies and was with him. She was a dried-up prim little woman of forty with a reserved, sub-acid smile and inhibitions ahead of her outspoken age. She never used the word “bowels” even in private conversation, and there were subjects which she did not mention at all, a matter for astonishment among most of her women friends. Her last two confinements had told heavily on her, and Ross thought that she looked drawn and wrinkled. Would Elizabeth some day come to look like this? Her first child seemed even to have improved her looks.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
...have some good examples of character sketches/overviews to use when presenting an idea for a character to an audience?
So... No. But I have a question about that.

I understand the need to keep our characters' natures believable and consistent. And I see the utility for making and keeping a literal sketch of them to ensure their stability over the course of a long piece or series.

Most of the time, though, I find I can keep a character stably and completely in mind for my usual short works. My current project is an exception, since some characters' concrete (not abstract) natures are quite foreign to me. I'll likely do some sketching to remind me of those things I might not naturally think of in the heat of the work.

But those sketches would be for me. Me alone.

What is the utility of a character sketch intended for an audience?

For me, a non-collaborator in your process, a character's literal T-Pose would make them some clicky technical specimen and remove their humanity by turning them into a tool.

What feedback could I as audience give of any worth? (re-reading, yes, I see my core assumption there, and yet a few more, but will let it lie until corrected)

I'm not complaining. Just curious. You've alluded to something foreign to my experience of producing a literary work and I'd like to understand.

As a respectful peer and an avid reader I'd much rather see your characters alive and in motion, unfolding to me from within their stories.

(Especially those unique and impossibly intriguing dragons of yours.)

So, back to the question driving this response:

What is the utility of a character sketch for presentation to an audience?

Thanks

And a postscript aside, completely and impatiently off-topic:
Is that artifact you mentioned two years ago still in your storyline?

[2021-08-25 1153]
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I struggle a lot with staying succinct and saying only what I need to when I get to describing a character. Does anyone have some good examples of character sketches/overviews to use when presenting an idea for a character to an audience? You know - "not too much, not too little" type of stuff. Something to entice, give description, and link them to how the story plays out without going on for 50 pages like I would.

I'd like to be able to present my ideas but can't help feeling that I get too involved with developing backstory that while useful for maintaining a consistent motivational system for the character, isn't truly necessary for anyone wishing to help identify good or bad traits to see. There's always a ton I want to talk about because I get excited and I like the characters I've made, but knowing when to stop is hard for that reason.
As in the discussion of movement, this becomes an element of the author's style. Some authors give scant information about a character's appearance, some go into great detail about body and dress. Any character background relevant to the story should of course go in ... at an appropriate time. And you don't have to dump it all in at one time. It can be revealed in segments. Some authors are going to give you character background NOT relevant to the story.

If these kinds of questions had definitive answers, everyone would write with the same style. That would be bad. :) Write what tells your story and don't worry about what other people do.
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
Actions over attributes.

When I started out, I spent considerable time trying to figure out how exactly to describe my characters. I had pages of description and I never missed a chance to drop one detail or another. I wanted the reader to see the character.

Now, I'd sooner they feel the character, so descriptions are fewer and less final - my go-to these days is 'average' or 'unremarkable'.

Most of the cast wouldn't appreciably stand out if you were waiting in line behind one in the bank, or passing them at the grocery store, or sitting next to them in a theater. Which (I think) makes them all the more interesting when you find about their narrative history.
 
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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I see your detail-orientation and vivid imagination as such a gift as an author. If I were you, I wouldn't try too hard to fit into a mold or any pre-conceived limitation for how much to include. Eventually, when you find the right balance it will become as @vranger says, part of your unique style.

Not sure if this helps, but, I tend to be skimpy with physical appearance, i.e., things they have no control over like body type, height, etc. Because I don't think it says much about their disposition, plus I want my readers to imagine themselves or people they know as these characters. But I do elaborate on things they do have control over, and that give hints about their personality, for example, their clothing, their friends, their likes and dislikes, and backstories of milestones in their lives.

One suggestion would be to write a separate character profile. You don't have to stop yourself...just go crazy. Afterward, when you are working on your larger work, pull it out and look for morsels that tie into whatever part of your story you are writing. And then follow your own advice:

Something to entice, give description, and link them to how the story plays out...

You will find as you are writing, it will become clear which things will accomplish this for you.
 

Questionable

Senior Member
What is the utility of a character sketch intended for an audience?

When I say "presentation to an audience", the audience is you, a writer here on writingforums, and the sketch would be me presenting a character to all of you as sort of a prototype. Something that you can use to give feedback from without needing to read through pages of exposition that isn't truly necessary. An overview I can put out so at the end I might get a "yeah, they seem to make sense, I like them." The reader gets all the information given throughout the course of the whole novel, but I can't write a novel here to give any of you the same experience because that would be unreasonable, so a shortening is needed, and I'm... Unfamiliar with shortening, because before now I haven't had to do it. It's just been me reading my own stuff and I ramble, so it's what I'm used to.

I kind of tend to thrive more on outside input than my own, because at the end of the day I know that what's in my own head makes sense to me, but I can't be so sure about others. I'm just not confident or experienced enough to assume those things, so to know that not only I like my idea but other people like it too (which is at the end of the day what makes something successful, yeah? Otherwise why would I aim for publishing and not just keep it private for my own enjoyment?) helps me a lot. I have trouble conveying the essence of a character in a succinct way. Something that doesn't end up obnoxiously long, so it can be casually glanced through for information so I can get public input before I go all-in on a character concept that doesn't make sense. I have confidence in my ability to characterize someone efficiently throughout the course of a whole book, but that's a lot of information and I'll feel like it's all important by the end and parsing through what's essential and what isn't is tough.

I'm scrambled enough that I haven't explained this very well, and for that I apologize.

Also, the artifact in question is actually an idea for an introductory short story I had. That Arcanite stuff isn't quite as make-believe as people think. ;)
I see your detail-orientation and vivid imagination as such a gift as an author. If I were you, I wouldn't try too hard to fit into a mold or any pre-conceived limitation for how much to include. Eventually, when you find the right balance it will become as @vranger says, part of your unique style.

Not sure if this helps, but, I tend to be skimpy with physical appearance, i.e., things they have no control over like body type, height, etc. Because I don't think it says much about their disposition, plus I want my readers to imagine themselves or people they know as these characters. But I do elaborate on things they do have control over, and that give hints about their personality, for example, their clothing, their friends, their likes and dislikes, and backstories of milestones in their lives.

One suggestion would be to write a separate character profile. You don't have to stop yourself...just go crazy. Afterward, when you are working on your larger work, pull it out and look for morsels that tie into whatever part of your story you are writing. And then follow your own advice:



You will find as you are writing, it will become clear which things will accomplish this for you.
Thank you so much. For human characters in my story a lack of physical description would make a lot of sense, but for the dragons in particular I want/need physical description because it is their difference from humanity that sets them apart. What's in their head becomes uncomfortably human, but to mankind around them there is still a disconnect - to man, allowing Noblemen freedom is never considered. Why? That is one problem to be explored throughout the novel.

For the supporting cast, less description is required of course because they are human and thus more unremarkable.

As a side-note, I actually have artwork of Noblemen already - kind of jumped the gun on that one, but it's good stuff.

They (Noblemen) are far from unremarkable and that is what scares man - immense potential, only chained by their domestication, indoctrination, and intentionally small population.

Edit: Just had a wonderful idea as I was thinking about the significance of the Noblemen's plight. Miir (my Noblemen character) is a Queen, the first one of her kind ever to hold that position over what was once a human kingdom. She came to that position by leaving her post nearly a hundred years prior, and in her absence her home practically collapsed without her to support it... When she returns and picks up the proverbial torch, not only does she wish to revive her old home, she wishes to find freedom for her own kind, something more akin to what she's found herself. A control over her own life, something she learned she could have only after becoming miserable first, awakened from an unknowing slumber where she had thought she was happy serving a place she loved, a place she thought loved her. To bring freedom would first bring misery, so how does she toe the line? Eventually I think there's a way she could bring some form of uneasy peace. A uniting of her own kind under her banner. Unification, where to the left lay punitive retaliation by man and to the right lay the Noblemen's total exodus into a world that would undoubtedly kill them on sight. "We will remain and serve - with our rights, our dignity, and our ability for self-decision intact. There is no other way for our - man and Noblemen's - society to survive."
 
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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Thank you so much. For human characters in my story a lack of physical description would make a lot of sense, but for the dragons in particular I want/need physical description because it is their difference from humanity that sets them apart. What's in their head becomes uncomfortably human, but to mankind around them there is still a disconnect - to man, allowing Noblemen freedom is never considered. Why? That is one problem to be explored throughout the novel.

For the supporting cast, less description is required of course because they are human and thus more unremarkable.

As a side-note, I actually have artwork of Noblemen already - kind of jumped the gun on that one, but it's good stuff.

They are far from unremarkable and that is what scares man - immense potential, only chained by their domestication, indoctrination, and intentionally small population.
Ah...yes of course! I hadn't factored in your genre. In that case, I would emphasize the physical descriptions more, and how you do this should be unique and become part of your voice. I have seen a lot of dragon descriptions before that have not moved me.

But if you can tie in the features with what's in their head that would be more interesting. For example, I think of a Raptor which is a meat-eating bird. One feature that distinguishes raptors from other types of birds is that the talon on their second toe is similar or greater in length than the talon on their third toe. For other birds, the “claw” on the third toe is significantly longer. I'm not sure how scientifically this makes them better hunters but I'm sure there is a reason. They also have some other features that are logical like keen eyesight, a hooked beak, and sharp talons Have a look at this description.


I know this is based on reality, but do you catch my drift? Relate the physical features to a function of how they are wired instinctually.

And I can see the artwork of these dragons as beneficial as well. Are you producing the artwork yourself?

EDIT: I can tell from the energy in your posts that you are really excited about this project. It's infectious. You've got me excited about my next project now!
 
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Questionable

Senior Member
Ah...yes of course! I hadn't factored in your genre. In that case, I would emphasize the physical descriptions more, and how you do this should be unique and become part of your voice. I have seen a lot of dragon descriptions before that have not moved me.

But if you can tie in the features with what's in their head that would be more interesting. For example, I think of a Raptor which is a meat-eating bird. One feature that distinguishes raptors from other types of birds is that the talon on their second toe is similar or greater in length than the talon on their third toe. For other birds, the “claw” on the third toe is significantly longer. I'm not sure how scientifically this makes them better hunters but I'm sure there is a reason. They also have some other features that are logical like keen eyesight, a hooked beak, and sharp talons Have a look at this description.


I know this is based on reality, but do you catch my drift? Relate the physical features to a function of how they are wired instinctually.

And I can see the artwork of these dragons as beneficial as well. Are you producing the artwork yourself?

EDIT: I can tell from the energy in your posts that you are really excited about this project. It's infectious. You've got me excited about my next project now!
Yeah I absolutely get what you're saying, and Noblemen actually have another unique feature: They have been domesticated and bred for specific features and traits. Forced evolution is a reality for their species. Just as humans have bred dogs in specific ways for specific reasons, humans have done the same for Noblemen. For those who find themselves "enlightened" as to their kind's position, as Miir is, it has a tendency to really, really warp their perception of life itself. To have belonged to another sentient race so long that your very bodies have been altered to their design... Imagine if you or I found we owed our existences to suit the purposes of a "higher" class of being, that every facet of our existence is owed to our purpose. It would drive many people insane, and that is the very reason many Noblemen find themselves willing to disconnect with that reality in favor of "following a noble calling" for the survival of their homes. It's a huge dissociation many of them do subconsciously. Cognitive dissonance.

So as far as "unique traits" go, there are a few. Humans have bred them to be visibly regal - like many would look at a gigantic, perfectly-groomed clydesdale horse and say "that is a really amazing creature", Noblemen are designed to elicit the same sort of emotion for the benefit of the dragon's home. Like a millionaire showing off their fancy car as evidence of their success, the cities in this fictional country parade their Noblemen as a way of exhibiting wealth, power, influence, and a discerning eye for features in their breed. So naturally, they are designed to be physically appealing to people as property of man. "This is what we can do. We are better than the others, and will prove it." Rather than engaging in physical fights, man to man, they pit these beasts against one another instead and it becomes bettable competition. A fun, yet important, game.

They have belonged so long to humanity that their basic instincts have been laid bare - through the subconscious decisions of their breeders and handlers, they have become... Human, in many ways. Most are social creatures who have conversations, they worry about appearances and how they're perceived and who their friends are, they have anxiety and joy and fear, they get angry sad and tired because of the influence of man and their new highest purpose as a social instrument like Miir both was and is. To mingle with the rulership of both their own nations and foreign ones, to compete mentally, the goal of breeders, trainers, and handlers over tens of thousands of years was to introduce them to social intelligence - and it worked.

In a way, they are in a pitiable position. Where once, eons ago, they might have simply been worried about where their next meal came from, they now suffer from many of the same mental plights humans do without being given proper recognition for their accomplishments, and to top it all off, all of it is as a result of belonging to man in the first place, used as tools. It will be a lot of forgiveness to give, if they have the capacity to give it upon gaining the freedom they desire.

[This is how Miirthaleirix looks.] Her kind all look similar due to her being part of a specific breed - males are typically bred to be larger, thicker-skinned, and more gruff. Some have horns as well.

However, most people in the story will typically see her like [this,] as in her position it is practically required to wear clothes for decency. She actually prefers it, having spent most of her life clothed similarly.

Edit: It might seem a little hard to suspend disbelief about humans turning a once-wild creature into something civilized that can speak, read, and write - however, this world has a keen understanding of how the mind works due to the way magic works. Analyzing thought processes and altering them is, and has been, a part of life since human civilization began, because magic relies on the way the brain functions. To understand cognitive behavior is to understand magic, and to master it. While Miir's country (the only place Noblemen live) is vehemently anti-magic and commonly lynches those believed to practice it, that is simply a belief held by the public... The rulership fully acknowledges the reality of magic's separation from evil and behind closed doors, one might find experimentation done here and there. Often enough, the ones doing that experimentation are closely linked to the families tasked with overseeing the breeding and training of Noblemen... Sometimes they are one and the same. While they can't open up a brain and physically change anything, at a young enough age it's found that with lax enough morals one can be altered an alarming amount past what should be possible... It's best that the public not know.

Edit: And thank you very much by the way! I am excited, it's just... focusing it that can be an incredible challenge. It can be discouraging.
 
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Questionable

Senior Member
Here is my favorite sketch of her. I think the proportions are correct for what I envisaged when I started this project.

Edit: To answer the question of if I actually made them myself, I did not, I paid an artist to work with me on realizing her design. However, I'm sure you can imagine that I was extremely, extremely particular in how I wanted her to look, so as far as the outcome goes I would say that I put in significant effort to ensure she was/is represented the way I want her to be.
 
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