The importance of cultivating an in-depth character breakdown for every character, even the small “day players,” can’t be stressed enough. When you think about story creation in a logical sense, how else could you create believable characters unless you take time to dig deep within these new creations. While the process of getting to know your characters is a continuous one, writing a character outline is perhaps the most pivotal.
The first draft of a character outline is the most basic out of the other five primary character outlines. This draft introduces you to the character and vice-versa while organizing and focusing your ideas.
In the Beginning…
You’ve written the story plot, you may have even written several pages in the script, but until this moment you don’t truly have a grasp of who your characters are. Before starting this process, make sure you’ve gathered all character and story notes you’ve created.
The first step of the outline is to solidify basic identifying information. Facts such as gender, age, hair style/color, birth place, birth date and parents name should all be current. The next step is to solidify the time in which we enter the characters’ life. What time of year are we first seeing the character? Where are we geographically? How long has the character lived in his/her town/city? How long has the character been at his/her current residence?
Now that you’ve written the very beginning of this surface-level character outline it’s time to delve deeper by uncovering their family history and current state. Answer the following questions: Who are the parents? Are the parents alive? Where do the parents live in relation to the character? How long have the parents lived in their current home? What is the mother’s occupation? What is the father’s occupation? Have either parents been previously married? How is the relationship between each spouse?
In the second draft of your character outline, you’ll delve deeper into relationships. This first draft is simply covering character basics.
While you may not know all of the connections a particular character currently has (as the story may not have revealed this information yet) outline what you know. Answer the following questions: How many/Who are the characters closest friends (fill in specific details such as age and sex)? Where did the character meet these friends? How long have they been friends? Who is the character romantically involved with? How long have they been romantic? To what physical level are they intimate? How is their current relationship? Where did they meet?
Remember, this is the first draft of the character outline, which means you don’t have to have all of the answers or that your answers are set in stone. Whenever I review my first draft character outlines, I’m surprised by the magnitude of changes every character went through during my quest to discover them. Use this as a jumping off point. You’re creating life, it’s going to take time and it’s going to occur in stages.