Character Sketch: What, Why & How for Fiction Writers, Screenwriters & Playwrights


Ever wondered what a character sketch is, if you need one, and/or how to create one?

If you’ve ever been concerned about any of ☝️and you’re (trying to be) a fiction writer, screenwriter or playwright – you’re in luck.

Because by the time you get to the end of this post, you’ll have the

  • what,
  • why and
  • how
    that every fiction writer, screenwriter and playwright should know when it comes to a character sketch.

There are many definitions floating around on the internet, but to put it simply, a character sketch is a pretty accurate guideline for creating characters in fiction.

Think of it as something similar to what a sketch artist creates for the police when they’re trying to find a person of interest.

This is just more detailed.

A character sketch is not

  • the exact, to-the-letter portrait of the character in your work of fiction
  • meant to restrict you
  • a tool or excuse to procrastinate
  • a novel outline
  • the plot for your work of fiction

So, why is a character sketch important and why do you – (aspiring or actual) fiction writer, screenwriter or playwright – need one?

Cos without a character sketch of some sort, you

  • are going to drive yourself nuts trying to figure out or remember which character is supposed to be doing or saying what
  • run the risk of being so confused that you never actually finish writing your novel or script for the screen, stage or radio
  • won’t have any producer, publisher, actor or agent in their right mind, greenlight or want to be associated with your work

And yes, you can self-publish or produce your own work of fiction, but what are you going to do when consumers don’t become fans because they notice and call you out on errors?

Errors that aren’t typographical or the odd spelling mistake (not that these are standard, though).

But I’m talking about errors that wouldn’t be there if you’d bothered to create with a character sketch.

Have you ever read, watched or heard a work of fiction that annoyed you because a character was just really badly created?

So, there might be this character who does or says things that aren’t even true to what the writer has actually been trying to get you to believe about that character.

Sometimes, the writer takes the character on a tangent that makes no sense for the character or even for the story, because there’s no explanation.

Or if there’s an explanation, it’s just not plausible even within the world of the story.

Some years ago, I read a few people’s comments on a book whose protagonist had four different names and two different personalities.

No, the protagonist wasn’t (written to be) bipolar or schizophrenic. And there was no evil twin; it was just painfully obvious that the writer didn’t even know the character that she had made the protagonist.

A character sketch will save you a lot of aggravation because it’ll force you to really think about and get to know the character you’re trying to create, before you create the character.

And you really want to do this because if your audience doesn’t care one way or the other about your character, if your audience is too annoyed to emotionally invest in your character, your work of fiction (and potentially your storytelling career) is actually dead on arrival.

And yes, they will get annoyed if there are glaring deficiencies in your character.

So, now that you know what a character sketch is and why it’s important, how do you create a character sketch?

Like I said before, a character sketch is a guideline. So, there’s actually more than one way to create a character sketch.

It really is up to you, the way you want to design it.

But the simplest way I swear by to create a character sketch is to ask some really basic questions.

1) What is your character’s name?
2) What is your character’s gender?
3) What is your character’s age?
4) What is their race/ethnicity/nationality/tribe?
5) What are their physical characteristics?
6) What are their quirks?
7) Where is your character based?
8) How does your character spend their time?
9) What kind of education have they had or are they pursuing?
10) What values do they hold dear?
11) What is their personality?
12) What is their greatest desire?
13) Why?
14) What is their greatest fear?
15) Why?
16) What lengths are they willing to go to achieve their greatest desire or avoid the thing they fear most?
17) What is their back story?
18) How does your character react to unexpected events?
19) Why is this character important to your story?
20) What two things make this character relatable to your target audience?

They might seem like a lot but a character sketch is absolutely necessary if you want your story to have characters that your audience cares about.

If you don’t know the character you’re trying to introduce to your audience, why would they want to know?

Yes, you need a character sketch for at least all the main characters in your novel or script – not just for the protagonist or the antagonist of your story.

So, have you learned anything new about a character sketch today? Comment below and let us know.

Also feel free to request your own character sketch cheat sheet below and it’ll be delivered straight to your preferred email address.

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