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Sunday, August 2, 2020


Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

For this month's post I thought I might share some of the 'lessons' on character finding/building I used to share with my acting students. These concepts, which we all know, I use when I am writing. It seems I've been using them all my life, having been on stage for most of it. Still, it is fun to remind myself from time to time. I hope you enjoy them also. 

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Character Biography

  1. What is your character's name and age?

  1. Where were they born and what was their childhood like?

  1. Do they have any siblings, if so what are their names, ages, and sex?

  1. Who were/ are their parents? What do they do/did for a living?

  2. What makes them unique?

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Character Sketch based on the biography

Name: Jennifer Jean Hobson (goes by J.J.)

Age: 38

Marital Status: Currently divorced after two failed marriages

Occupation: A detective with the city police department

Siblings: Two brothers, one in Ohio, one in Virginia. One sister living at home taking care of elderly parents

Parents: Both still living in New York state

J.J. loves her job and worked hard to get to the level she now has. Doesn’t feel guilty about failed marriages but gets constant remarks from her family. They want her to return home and have a normal life. This would make J.J. crazy. Has a drinking problem, but is in complete denial about the issue. Has been known to pick up men when drunk and has no memory of the event afterward.

As a child, J.J. was a bit of a tomboy. She enjoyed softball, track, and basketball. When she began high school she was in a car wreck in which her boyfriend was killed. She started drinking in secret shortly after that.

Has usually been a bit of a loner. This is primarily due to a lack of self-esteem and shyness. Has had friends but usually ends up driving them away with her behavior. Comfortable with her co-workers as the interaction is all business.

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Character Belief Process

1. What problem, situation or area of life do they want to improve?

2. What emotions are they feeling?

3.. What physical sensations are they feeling?

4. What are they thinking about?

5. What is the worst thing that could happen in their situation?

6. What is the best that could happen?

7. What fear or limiting belief is keeping them from achieving what they want in their situation?

Writing Memes

I hope you find something of use in the process. It has been a tool I've used for many a year. 

Wishing you all a wonderful, safe, productive rest of 2020. We surely do need it.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet


  1. Interesting! Oddly enough I'm doing character sheets for a current project -- someone in my writer's group thought the leads weren't coming through strongly enough (probably because I've been focused on ironing out the plot in my first draft), and I thought it would help me to ground them better. I like your questions -- interesting perspectives.

    1. Cate, that's the thing I love about the process,your persoectives change and divert depending on the character you are building. Sometimes as I'm writing the details change and grow with the situeations. It is the same on stage, as I got to know my character through the rehearsal process they filled out and became even more real.

      Let me know how the character sheets work for you. Doris

  2. Really useful questions and prompts, Doris! All help to make a character come alive. I tend to keep notes about my people, I always find it handy.
    I like to consider a character's main virtue, main vice and main secret.

    1. Lindsay, you're like me. What drives my character and what in the past made them that way. I'm glad you find the questions useful. Here's to the next story. Doris

  3. I'm going to add your post today to my tool belt. I particularly like the Character Belief Process and indeed to use it next time I'm working on a project to help me flesh out and get to know my characters. I'm more of a pantster (versus plotter) but I'd be interested to see if using this technique would bring more clarity to me as I try and work it all out.

    1. Patti, I'm also an pantser, but I find the story flows easier when I really know my characters. I do confess, with most of these questions I automatically fill in the blanks. I think that happens because I've done it for so many years as an actor. LOL Let me know how it works out for you. Doris

  4. What a great idea for a post! This is really helpful for my new project. The characters started as one thing, and have now flipped completely, so I now need to re-examine who they are.

  5. It is one thing I'm pretty good at, that is teaching acting and performing. (One of my students is working in Hollywood. Smile).

    Hopefully my questions will help in your latest endeavors. Let me know. I'm glad you liked the idea for this post. Doris

  6. A great checklist! Always good to make sure you understand your characters.

    1. Thank you, Kristy for the kind words. Although I start out with just the basic, like in the first section, by the time I'm really into the story, the third part really comes into play. (Smile) Doris

  7. Doris, Your process is a great strategy. I can see how it is beneficial to the character development. I have a loosey-goosey version of your process in Excel spreadsheet format. I'm a pantser, for the most part, but I still need somewhat of a foundation to build the story and characters from. Right or wrong, I don't plot or outline, and I don't totally flesh-out my characters before I start writing. I have a general idea of my characters and their qualities and quirks, but most of the time, I discover these attributes as I write.

    1. I'm happy you like it, Kaye. I think a lot of writers instinctive do these things. I just, because of my background, have a more formalized structure. LOL.

      Like you, and as I wrote when responeding to Kristy, each section comes into play in certain parts of my writing also.


  8. Doris, I didn't know actors went through such a process to develop the characters they planned to portray. I have used a character development pattern, but it didn't contain these meaty little details you mentioned in this informative post. THANKS! I'll have to add them to my list.

    1. Sarah, not all actors do, but a lot of them do. It's a process of trying to get into the mind of the character you are portaying so that when the lines you speak flow naturally from a place of truth. You literally, because of the work, become that character, body, mind, and soul.

      I'm glad you found the information useful. It has stood me in good stead for many a year. Doris

  9. Doris, I love that you treat your characters as you would an actor playing the part--getting to know them and come up with so many details. Sometimes when I'm writing, a detail will just pop up in conversation--I have one character in my WIP that, although she's from a poor background, wears a cherished silver necklace--and that would have been hard to hang onto during the Civil War! But someway, she manages to do it. I haven't figured out the significance of that necklace yet, but it meant so much to her, she managed to hang on to it through thick and thin. I imagine all will be revealed in another part of the dialogue when someone asks her to explain it...LOL Loved this post!

    1. Cheryl, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I was a bit hesitant wondering if people would think I was a bit crazy. Then I thought, it's a process I use, so ...

      When you mentioned the necklace my 'actor' mind immediately went to the reasons and started working on a solution. LOL. Looking forward to that story. Doris

  10. I enjoyed your post very much. You home really helpful ideas here. Thank you.

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  12. Elizabeth Clements August 5, 2020 at 1:23 AM
    I always love learning from other writers. When I first began writing, I often had a plot appear when I was in the middle of cooking breakfast for my little guys...or changing a diaper. I'd go to the library for research books and find all kinds of nuggets. It wasn't until I did a full edit of Chase and Sara's story that I realized I'd lost an entire week in my story, which depended on a full phase of the moon. That's when I made a calendar for the entire month of the story and briefly wrote in the key points. That not only helped my time line, but was also a quick outline of my story. It was several rereads later that I realized I wasn't in my heroine's head, but rather in the author's head by giving too much backstory during a fight or flight scene. What an epiphany. Then in the second book I introduced a new character but knew nothing about her background. It wasn't until a few chapters before the end that I had another epiphany. Molly and Jolene were talking and from out of nowhere, Molly poured out the tragedy she'd kept inside for so long. I was shocked. Where did that come from? And that's why your checklist is so important, Doris. Every writer should do this as much as possible and add to it as the panser writer moves through her story. In my series I have to keep a check list so that eye color, for example, is consistent through the series. We think we won't forget, but we do. Great post, Doris. P.S. I made a couple of mistakes in my post so it was easier to just delete it and retype. It wasn't anything negative, just my bleary eyes making typos. Hope I caught the typos this time.

    1. Elizabeth, you seemed to have caught the typos. Each author has their process and this one is mine. Like you, I believe we can always learn from others. I am glad you found something of use. It is a process I do naturally and probably because I've done it all my life as an actor. Which is a pretty long time, just don't tell. LOL. Doris