Detailed Character, family, community sketch for planning a novel
|This is a template loosely based on a Social Summary format for a child protection agency where I work. However, it gives a comprehensive look at not only what is in a novel but the reasons why your character(s) make the decisions they make or why the
to people or stress the way they do. I hope it is helpful. I've done different colors to make the sections stand out but I'd suggest copying and pasting on a word document, tailoring it to your own liking, and printing out copies to fill out while writing your novel. You can fill it out at the beginning and add as you write or just fill it out as you add a detail in your novel. I'm not sure how it will look when pasted so you may have to do some altering of line lengths also.
I'd suggest breaking the pages up by 1-2 on one sheet, 3 on another and 4 on another. (don't add 3 at the end of 2, in other words). You may have several sheets of 1-2, one per major character. You may also do pg 3 for other families mentioned in your book that aren't really major characters but the family is important to your characters family. Or they may show, by contrast, much about your character's family (ie the Adams family in the mansion next door, the Jr. League wife and her husband in the country club, the family of the pariah of your character's school who lives next door and leaves trash on their front yard and whose house the neighborhood watch or "yard police" are up in arms about).
1. CHARACTER (Individual summary-#1-2)
(ABOUT ___________(CHAR NAME) FROM __________'S VIEWPOINT)
NAME: _____________________ NICKNAME:________________ BY WHO:______________
AGE: _________________ DOB _________________
SKIN COLOR/OTHER: _________________
EYE COLOR: _________________ GLASSES/CONTACTS: _________________
HAIR COLOR/STYLE: _________________
UNUSUAL FEATURES/SCARS/ETC: _________________
BODY TYPE: _________________
BODY IMAGE: _________________
EMBARASED BY OR WANTS TO CHANGE: _________________
PROUD OF/WOULD JUST DIE IF LOST OR CHANGED: _________________
2. CHARACTER’S HISTORY/PERSONALITY/BEHAVIOR:
(ABOUT ___________(CHAR NAME) FROM __________'S VIEWPOINT)
Educational History And Intellectual Development
Relevant Medical Background And Physical Development
Hobbies/favorite activities/recreation (Also, how does char see self-athletic vs. nerdy, vs. couch potato?)
Employment / Vocational History Degrees, good worker or not, self rated abilities vs. how others see char, under/over empl.)
Psychological / Psychiatric Treatment History And Emotional Development (what diagnosis?, (How did family handle this, is this repeated for generations?)
Mental Status (Are they mentally/emotionally able to cope with life?)
Military Service History (What branch/traumas/which war or location served/rank/issues brought home to family/when discharged and reason/struggles family went through while deployed).
Legal History (jail or prison, fines causing family hardships, which family denounced person and which family members bailed them out), underlying problem (poverty, drugs or alcohol, meanness, anger probs, crime of passion).
Alcohol / Drug Use History (themselves or their family of origin? What drug/rehab? #times in rehab)
Description / Summary Of Significant Issues Being Experienced By The Char.(Consequences or regrets from mistakes made, or events out of their control they must conquer or overcome? What are they going to go through in the book? What trials will you throw at them?
ABOUT ___________CHAR/FAMILY NAME - FROM _________________'S VEIWPOINT)
CURRENT FAMILY UNIT (Shown in story or novel )
Family unit: Names of those in home or significant to character.
Char's exact role in current family unit shown in story:parent/child/spouse/grandparent/sibling
If char is adult/What Role in family of origin (oldest/youngest sibling, black sheep, perfect child, etc)
Communication in current family unit:(Who currently yells, who holds it in, who explodes, who is the "Stepford" wife cold type, who is overly logical or always has to be right, who says “I'm sorry” first, who never says it.?)
Discipline in family (Who is disciplinarian-who in family gets in trouble, least and worst punishment, difference b/w char and co-parent (if char is parent, guardian) etc. (see next question for additional info)
Char vs. spouse/co-parent (if char is parent/adult caregiver IN STORY) OR compare/contrast adults in child char's house)
Parenting habits/personal habits (Smoked, strict or not, drugs, perfectionist, abusive, etc)
FAMILY OF ORIGIN( For adults in novel who are main character
Family History (Where lived growing up, Moved a lot/same place?/when parents divorced and/or died)
Communication in family:( Who yelled, who held it in, who exploded, who was "Stepford" wife cold (and why was she cold?-trouble with fertility, thinks husband's having affair, were her parents forbidding of showing emotion), who was overly logical or always had to be right, who said “I'm sorry” first, who never said it?
Discipline in family (of ORIGIN) (who got in trouble, least and worst punishment, grounding?long,etc.)
Mother vs Father (or whoever raised them) (even single parent vs. grandparent(s) Parenting habits/personal habits/addictions (Smoked, strict or not, drugs, perfectionist, abusive, etc)
4. THE FAMILY’S COMMUNITY
(ABOUT ___________(TOWN NAME) FROM _________________'S VIEWPOINT)
City/State (or region): (if made up, what is the town like-give some examples of similar towns)
Type of area: (Big city/country atmosphere/rural/urban/suburban:
Weather/Topography: Region that denotes weather (desert/hot, southeast (muggy, temperate), lake area, coastal, Midwest, northeast/cape/harbor town, northwest/rainy/etc)
Activities/Recreation: What did people do in neighborhood/community (Near lake/mountain, what sports, places such as country club, local park with skate ramp, etc) How serious were parents of a child's sports ability, how obnoxious are they at games, do they enjoy competitive or leisure activities?
Class/economic level: (of current family and of family of origin) AND of town in general.)
Family’s economic level in relation to rest of community. (How did they get or lose their money or were they always poor / rich.? Did they take advantage of others to get rich? Did the poor steal to make ends meet? What did they think of those who were opposite situation from them?
Eccentricities (events/places)-(Scary abandoned house, Tragedy that happened down the street, town famous for …, local scandal, folklore about town or city (if effects char in story). (And was characters family involved in any of these events?)
Eccentricities-( living people)( Odd neighbors, rumors of x and y’s affair, who was the town busybody, the one shunned, the one who slept with the married men, the stuck up one, the "Stepford" wife, the town drunk, the eccentric (aka mentally ill) person, the one not to trust, the creep down the road, etc. Were any of these in your character’s family/or are they your character?)
Neighborhood closeness, or lack thereof :Block parties, society events, who was in and who wasn’t, what role in community were characters and their families, or both – Romeo/Juliet situation, where was the line dividing classes/groups (North of RR track, on the mountain vs. valley, townies vs. the sticks, prep school vs. public school kids. Which "cliques" were your character in as a child/now
AFTER WRITING DETAILED CHARACTER SKETCH ABOVE, HIGHLIGHT AREAS WHERE YOU POURED OUT INFORMATION AND SCRATCH OUT WHAT DOESN'T APPLY. USING THE INFO THAT STANDS OUT MOST, WHAT IS THE THEME OF THE STORY/NOVEL?
OVERALL PROBLEM EXPERIENCED BY MAIN CHARACTER IN STORY:
CATALYST FOR CHANGE:
DECISION BY CHARACTER AFTER REALIZATION THAT HE/SHE MUST MAKE A DECISION:
CHARACTER'S SURFACE GOAL (OUTER ACHIEVEMENT, PERHAPS):
CHARACTER'S INTERNAL GOAL OR INTERNAL CHANGE MADE AS A RESULT OF MEETING OR NOT MEETING EXTERNAL GOAL:
Make sure you fill in who each page is ABOUT and whose Viewpoint the answers are coming from.
Section 1: Do for every major and predominant character.
Section 2: Do for every major character (may not need this much info for minor characters)
Section 3: Several options for this one.
If character is currently an adult and parent/spouse, do current family and family of origin.
If character is a child, either just do current family OR do family BEFORE some tragedy happened in Fam of Origin area and
how they are NOW as CURRENT Family situation.
Do Family of Origin sheet for Each of child's parents and do child's info in Current family.
Section 4: This can be done once for a nuclear family OR you can do one sheet per family member in their own viewpoint. How each person sees their community is very different from others. In fact, whoever you have as the POV Character(s), you may need the whole packet in their viewpoint. Then, you can even pick a character who isn't in the book (the Main character's mother, for example) and give her the form to fill out ABOUT your main character. Just for fun, try filling out portions of section 1-2 from POV of character's principal of the their old school, a neighbor, a boss, etc.
Oh, and don't get frustrated if you can't fill in all the blanks. Ex. Some stories have nothing to do with the military so just cross that one out. IF a character in your story is permissive as a father BECAUSE his father was harsh and a drill sergeant in the Army (and at home), this category may be important EVEN THOUGH the man's father isn't even in the story. So, think about it before crossing it out. May want to cross out rather than delete completely. You never know when a past military issue might come in handy for a current plot or excuse (Ex. for moving a lot, death of a parent a while back, the one that got away or died and left a woman pregnant during a war).
GOOD LUCK FOLKS.