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Monday, August 11, 2014

How I "Birth" My Characters

The first thing I do when I come up with an idea for a novel is set up my Character Sketch Files. I do this even before I write a synopsis or any kind of plot outline. I need to know everything about my characters. Some of what I know never makes it into the book. And often, as I write I learn more about them and add that to the sketch.

My latest book, The Art of Love and Murder, required me to do a family tree research too. Well, I call it research. I had to make it all up of course. Lacy is researching her past and that research will spill over into book three so I had to go back many generations.

I'm not sure you'll find this interesting, but I thought I'd share what my character sketch pages looked like for my main female character, Lacy Dahl.

TITLE: Heroine
Character Name: LACY DAHL                                                     
Birth Date and Place:  Flagstaff, AZ 1969
Character Role: HEROINE
Physical Descriptions:
                Age:  43
                Eye Color:  LIME GREEN
                Hair Color and Style:  BLACK, THICK, HANGS BELOW HER SHOULDERS
                Height/Weight/Build: 5’7”, 135, MEDIUM – CURVY - NICE
                Skin Tone: DARKISH
                Style of Dress: jeans, pricey shoes, gauzy or silk shirts, sparse jewelry but precious

Characteristics/Mannerisms: brushes her hair along her chin when thinking, likes real things like ceramic not paper, diamonds, leather

Personality Traits: until the story begins she’s been happy to live in the present, not an inquisitive person, but a happy person, settled. Self-assured, independent, responsible

Background:  orphaned as a baby and foster parents eventually adopted her. Foster parents were unable to have children. When no blood relatives on either side could be found, they were allowed to adopt her. Her husband died three years earlier before beginning of book in a mountain climbing accident. His name was Conrad Dahl. He was a surgeon. She bought the coffee shop 6 months after his death. Her birth parents were Hartmut Luschin and Kaya Mockta born 1947. They were 27 and 28 when they died in an airplane crash that only she survived.

Internal Conflicts: husband and parents dead, she’s left to discover who she is for her sake as well as her two children – but does she want to know – she’s always been happy with what she knows of her adopted life –she will struggle with an attraction to the sheriff

External Conflicts: someone wants the artifact and sketches she possesses, Kitty is a rival in the romance story

Occupation/Education:  college graduate, now owns a coffee shop in Scottsdale

Miscellaneous Notes: runs every morning before opening the café and then goes home to change before returning to the café. practices yoga twice a week at a studio. She has a son who is at chef school in Paris and a daughter who is getting divorced in Tucson and owns an art gallery.

Lacy’s car is Crimson Red with beige interior.

The BMW Z4

Smooth and powerful engines, quick-folding hardtop, comfortable ride, big trunk (with the top up), excellent visibility for a roadster, sharp styling inside and out.

That's a glimpse into what goes into a book before I start the story.


  1. You need a Tweet and FB button so readers can promote your website. Like how you developed your characters.

    1. Gosh, Pepper, I'm on both Twitter and FB but don't know what you mean by a button!

  2. Brenda, loved this info about your process. I have a character sketch sheet I fill out on all of my main characters and to a lesser degree the secondary ones. I also have to know a character's background and what gets them to the point where I start my story. Lacy is intriguing.

    1. Thanks, Roz. I find the most fun in character building.

  3. I enjoyed reading your process and have used a similar sheet. Running a background really helps develop the story!

  4. Seems like this is most fun part of creating a new story...could you think me up a car like that please? RED would be just fine :))

    1. By far the most fun. I'll think you up the car, Nancy, but I have trouble with delivery beyond virtual!

  5. I liked reading your process and what kind of detail you get into defining your characters. I have a similar sheet - but this gives me ideas!

  6. Brenda, this is awesome. I'm more a fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to writing characters, but I really like this process much better. I'm going to copy! Thanks!