I’ve been working on editing the first three chapters of my novel and re-working my query letter and synopsis. I also thought I’d spend some time on my character backgrounds. I found this set of questions which addresses various aspects of your characters. As an exercise, I am planning to fill these out about my main characters, just to make certain I know them well enough and I’m not leaving out anything important. These types of exercises should help in filling in gaps and further refining/developing your own characters.
The following character sketch is for my protagonist.
Name and age?
Caelen – 21
What is most noticeable about your character’s appearance/physical presence? How does he feel about it?
His nervous habit of constantly touching the hilt of his sword. He is mostly unaware of it, but others around him notice this behavior.
Describe his voice, verbal ticks, pet phrases etc.
Middle range to deep tone. “Justice and vengeance are not the same.”
Describe a gesture your character makes.
He is always putting his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Where does he now live? Describe the city, town or village, the house itself. Be very specific. Any feelings about this place?
He doesn’t have a consistent home. He is a soldier that moves about as war dictates.
Has he lived elsewhere? What does he remember of these places?
His heritage is of minor nobility, so Caelen has a small family estate in the southern part of Aricin. He has not been there in many years.
What part of his home is his favorite? Least favorite? Why. Describe, using specific details.
His favorite part comes from his childhood memories when he used to hunt with his friend Guibert in the woods near his home. He loves the open spaces of his family’s estate: the forest, the streams, the fields, the orchards.
What does your character dream of at night?
Killing the man, Cobus, who murdered his father and brothers.
Who are/were his parents? Rest of family? What does his feel for them?
Caelen has no family left. His father and brothers were murdered, and his mother died of an illness. He loved his mother, but he is indifferent for the most part to his brothers and father. His father was a drunk and sometimes abusive, and his brothers took after their father. They only wanted to drink, sleep with women, gamble, and fight. Caelen vows to avenge them, not because of his love toward them, but because it is his family duty to settle the blood price of their deaths.
Class, ethnic group, religious background?
High to middle social status. Minor nobility. His religious background is split. His father followed after the newer religious order, and his mother believed in the older ways, the religious beliefs of a group known as the Casari. The newer religious order seeks to eradicate the older beliefs through inquisition.
Who does he love, or has he loved? Or what. Detail.
He is in love with his lord’s daughter, Nevina. He has loved her ever since he first saw her at a winter festival when he was 15. They kissed once at the festival. Since Caelen’s family is of minor nobility, the Nevina is of too high standing to ever marry someone like him.
Who loves him?
Only his brothers-in-arms, which includes his best friend Guibert. Since his family is dead, and Nevina does not seem to recognize that he even exists, he is loved only by the men who stand next to him in battle.
Married/ in relationship/single? Give names and specifics.
Who or what does he fear?
He fears what will happen to his soul after he dies. He is conflicted regarding the beliefs of the two major religious orders, since his father believed one way and his mother believed another.
What about his or her life would he change if he could?
He wished he never had to be involved in the war between Cobus and the supporters of the former king of Aricin.
Does the character have a hobby? Secret passion?
He enjoys spending time alone in nature. He enjoys riding, exploring, hunting, and fishing
What would be his or her favorite smell ( why)?
Woodsmoke. The smell of burning wood evokes memories of his childhood when he used to explore the forests near his family estate in winter. It also reminds him of the winter festival where he first kissed Nevina.
Favorite meal? Attitude to food?
Roasted lamb. He especially enjoys the food they use to eat at the harvest festivals, summer festivals, and winter festivals, but those days of enjoyment are long gone. He feels that if he savors food too much he will remember and long for those days once again and want to return home and forget the war. He cannot let himself grow complacent because he has a blood price to collect that will only be settled once he has killed Cobus.
A simple tunic and breeches with his sword strapped to his side.
What is the worst thing that could happen to him or her right now?
Someone will kill Cobus before he has the chance to do it.
What is his most treasured possession?
The wooden cross he wears about his neck that his mother gave him.
What’s his philosophy of life? What are his or her most strongly held beliefs?
He is so focused on getting revenge that he confuses justice for vengeance. Religiously, he associates his actions, good or bad, on the kinds of blessings or curses he will receive. If he does good, he will be rewarded. If he does bad, he will be punished. This is what the new religious order of bishops teach. These were his father’s beliefs, but he is also conflicted because he wants to believe like his mother did. His mother believed in a gracious God, a God of mercy. This is the old religious order, an order full of prophets who preached a merciful message. This old religious order is seen as heretical.
What does he feel guilty about?
He feels guilty when he does wrong morally. He feels guilty for not protecting his mother more, for not trusting completely in her religious beliefs and teachings. He feels guilty for not protecting his father and brothers from death. He feels guilty for allowing Abbot Darius to die at St. Thomas.
Biggest mistake ever made?
Allowing Abbot Darius to die in front of his eyes.
Best thing he ever did?
Not giving up completely on what his mother taught him.
What, right now, does your character want most of all?
To settle the blood price. “Justice and vengeance are the same.”