Jill Weatherholt

Writing Stories of Love, Faith and Happy Endings While Enjoying the Journey

The Anatomy of a Character Sketch

98 Comments

Francis Guenette - author photoI’m delighted to once again welcome Francis Guenette author of The Crater Lake Series – Disappearing in Plain Sight and The Light Never Lies  and Chasing Down the Night. Her novels are set on the shore of a Northern Vancouver Island lake, rich in rural life, family dynamics, and romance.

Settle in with one of Fran’s books and you’ll become one of the characters. Her natural storytelling ability and talent to bring the setting to life will immediately transport you to fictional Crater Lake.

Be sure to check out her blog. You’ll find pictures of her stunning lakeshore cabin, where she resides with her husband and finds inspiration for the series.

Please welcome Fran as she talks about the anatomy of a character sketch.

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When it comes to writing a novel, if I have any pearls of wisdom to drop that string of luminescent beauty would be looped over the neck of how writers get to know their characters. A writer’s relationship with the characters has to go as deep as any connection to family members or BFF’s.

Character sketches are the obvious entry point to this knowing and a physical description is a good place to begin. Not necessarily the most important aspect of the undertaking, but one must start somewhere.

A physical description will naturally branch out and run all over the map – age, work, friends, family, hobbies, affectations, disabilities, talents. Dig a bit deeper and a character’s internal and external motivations begin to emerge. What makes the person tick? What drives this particular character’s actions? What makes him laugh? What makes her cry? Where is anger rooted?

Creating character sketches comes early in my writing process and it’s an exercise in wild writing – a regular free-for-all. I let myself go as I imagine everything I can about a particular character. As creator, I need to know far more about my creations than any reader will ever be subjected to.

My daily walks become prime time for carrying out lengthy chats with all my characters. The first person the character interacts with is me. Later, when I’m sure I’m on solid ground with the relationships I have developed, I can begin to hear how they talk to one another. If I have brought the character sketch process to its logical conclusion, dialogue becomes an act of transcription.

Character sketches do not get laid to rest once I start writing the novel. Whenever I find that dialogue is not flowing or something a character is doing is not ringing true, I’m back to the drawing board of that sketch. There is obviously the need to strengthen the relationships if I’m going to hear unique voices, capture that slight waver, hesitation or tone that indicates so much.

My books, so far, have revolved around the same group of core characters. As it is in real life, characters must grow. A series is dead in the water if this doesn’t happen. With each new book, character sketches have to be fleshed out to adequately represent the ways in which the characters have changed. Izzy can’t sound the same in book four – happily married to Liam and surrounded by family – as she sounded in book one when she was reeling from Caleb’s death and struggling with loneliness and feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Of course, there are aspects of Izzy’s voice that never change – core personality traits, her wry sense of humour and quick wit. I cherish that continuity as I tune my ear to understanding who this woman is becoming.

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Thank you so much for sharing your technique of developing character sketches, Fran.

Her latest release can be purchased on the following sites:

Amazon.com

Nook Store

iTunes

Kobo

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CDN (book antiqua) Front Cover 6x9 JPEG Final ProofOne might be excused for assuming that an idyllic life unfolds for those who have chosen to live and work near the shores of Crater Lake. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Long-time resident, Izzy Montgomery juggles the stress of a new job with her burgeoning home life. Family dynamics go into overdrive when Alexander and Cynthia launch plans to build a home nearby and Liam’s sister, Fiona shows up to do an internship with the local doctor. Lisa-Marie and Justin are back for the summer and sparks fly. While crusty, old Reg keeps sawmill production booming, Beulah runs the organic bakery and plans the First Annual Caleb Jenkins Memorial Ball Tournament. Bethany discovers her own hidden talents working with young people at Micah Camp.

As a nine-year-old’s dreams reflect a dangerous reality, many encounter issues from the past.

This is a novel for all those who work at building family ties by strengthening the traditional and creating the new. Chasing Down the Night explores a wide-ranging emotional landscape while highlighting the many aspects of day-to-day, rural life. Tears and laughter are inevitable.

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Author: Jill Weatherholt

My name is Jill Weatherholt and I’m a writer. I have a full-time job, but at night and on the weekend, I pursue my passion, writing. I write modern stories about love, friendship and forgiveness. I started this blog as a way to share my journey toward publication and to create a community for other new writers. Raised in the Washington, DC area, I’ve lived in Charlotte, North Carolina since 2004. I hold a degree in Psychology from George Mason University and a Certification in Paralegal Studies from Duke University. My first book, SECOND CHANCE ROMANCE, will release in March, 2017. It's now able for pre-order on Amazon. I was the first place winner in the Dream Quest One Short Story Contest in the Winter 2014-2015 competition. In 2014, I placed second in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest. I was also a top ten finalist in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest in 2012 and 2013. I’m a 2010 and 2012 winner of the NaNoWriMo Contest. I love to connect readers, visit me at jillweatherholt.com

98 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Character Sketch

  1. Thanks for sharing Fran’s remarks on creating a character sketch – very helpful. I find keeping a composition book dedicated to a main character useful. This is a practice I’ve just started.

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    • The composition book idea is a great one. Once, in an airport waiting for a plane, I wrote a very thorough physical description of a woman who was sitting across from me chatting with a friend. I just knew she would someday become Liam’s sister, Fiona. That little piece, jotted on the go, fueled her character in so many ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for introducing me to Fran and her insight. I find it funny how characters and only a snippet of story appear long before the “real” story unfolds for us. Once those characters surface they dig in deep…they won’t disappear; they insist on being recorded!

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  3. This is so true: “As it is in real life, characters must grow. A series is dead in the water if this doesn’t happen.” Thanks, Jill and Fran!

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  4. Thank you Jill for sharing Fran’s character sketch tips and insight. New ground for me, and ground I hope to walk upon much more in time to come. Thank you Fran, your home by the lake sounds divine 🙂

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  5. Good Morning, Jill! I am not a writer, but I am a reader. I found Fran’s character sketch tips and her relationship with her characters fascinating. Thank you to you and Francis. I will be looking up her books.

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  6. Loved hearing about your process, Fran. The character sketch is a great idea! And your series sounds wonderful!
    I also write character sketches, but I think I need to go deeper as you suggested, particularly about what makes my characters laugh. My question for you, Fran, is that after writing a sketch, have you ever had to drop a character that you felt wouldn’t work out in a story?

    Thanks, Jill, for featuring Fran! I always learn something when I come to your blog. Have a great weekend!

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    • I’m laughing as I reply to this question – only because I am currently working on a post entitled – The Characters Who Got Away 🙂 Yes – I’ve spent a good deal of a time on more than one character who ended up on the cutting room floor in subsequent drafts of a work. In one case, when push came to shove and someone had to go, this particular characters storyline was not as strong as others and in another case, thought he character was dear to me the way he came about didn’t really work. Even though a character might not make it into the final draft, they always remain in my mind.

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    • Hi L. Marie! I had a feeling you would enjoy Fran’s post. I’m happy you were able to learn something besides the discovery in our bathroom of Fred the frog. 🙂
      Enjoy your weekend! I hope you’re cable is up and running soon for The Hallmark Channel.

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  7. Your review, Jill, is well written, as is Fran’s insightful piece on character sketches. This made me think of Geoffrey Chaucer whose spare sketches were so telling

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  8. So many thanks to Jill for inviting me to her blog. It is great to interact with her wonderful following.

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    • It’s my pleasure, Fran. I always love to have your smiling face and words of wisdom here. As I mentioned in the e-mail, readers still view your guest post from last summer on your story board. Thanks for visiting!

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  9. Thank you both for this helpful and delightful introduction. I’m going to explore it further as evening comes and I can sit again. I see so much I can learn here. I live here in Oregon but have not been to Crater Lake. Your stories may make me want to do that.

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    • I hope you will still take the time to search out my books when I confide that my Crater Lake is a fictional one on the shores of Northern Vancouver Island in BC, Canada. I had not even heard of the ‘real’ Crater Lake until well after my first book was published. My husband, Bruce and I travelled in Oregon a couple of years ago and made a point of visiting your Crater Lake. Awe-inspiringly beautiful!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by, Marlene. I think you’ll really enjoy Fran’s books. Happy Weekend to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “With each new book, character sketches have to be fleshed out to adequately represent the ways in which the characters have changed.”—Great point and one I hadn’t thought about since I don’t have a series. Not yet, anyway.

    It’s amazing how far we can go when we start these character sketches. We end up with so much detail, we can’t possibly use it all in the book. But it makes our writing smoother when we really know and understand our characters.

    Great post.

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  11. This is truly fascinating to learn how Fran develops her characters and her relationship with them and with each other. It makes sense that you need to be close to your characters and feel their every move and word. Congratulations on your success, Fran!

    Thank you Jill for sharing her story and character forming process. 🙂

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    • It is an interesting process, I’ll admit that! One that makes me a bit spacey now and then – too many conversations going on inside my head. Thanks for the well wishes 🙂

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    • My pleasure, Maria! I love to learn about Fran’s writing process. If you have time, check out her blog to see the photos of her lake house. Personally, I don’t know if I could write anything, I’d be too busy staring out the windows.
      Have a great weekend! I hope you and Mr. B have wild and crazy plans. xo

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  12. I like that you take daily walks with your main character, as well as eavesdrop on their conversations with one another. What a lovely way to get to know them. 🙂

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  13. Funnily enough, I never write character sketches – or rather, I find out more about them in my head 🙂

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  14. Character is king! I enjoy writing character sketches. It’s like meeting someone and learning more about them through conversation, hearing the stories of their life.

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  15. Great characters make or break a book. Definitely a key building block to successful storytelling. Thank you both for sharing.

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  16. Thanks for the introduction, Jill. Glad I read about Fran’s creating character sketches. The idea that the author knows so many details about their characters (even if we, the readers, don’t) is what makes for fascinating characters and a great story. Thanks for the link to her blog too.

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    • Hoping I’ll see your feet over on my blog … well, maybe your eyes 🙂 I had a great supervisor in grad school who always told us – over prepare and under present. It was like she knew exactly how a person needs to write. Gather a ton of information but when you start to write let the story lead.

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    • My pleasure, Geralyn! For me, knowing my characters inside and out makes the writing flow much better. If you read Fran’s books, it’s evident she spends a great deal of time with character development. Enjoy your weekend! I can’t wait to hear about your trip.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you, Fran. Strangely enough, I had less trouble seeing and creating my characters when I was writing “Tiger Tail Soup” than I am with the new novel I’m working on. I don’t know what the trouble is. Maybe it’s because the new novel is in a time and place I’m more familiar with, so it’s harder for my imagination to take flights of fancy. Whatever it is, I appreciate your suggestions, especially the one about chatting with my characters on my daily walk. Good idea.

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  18. These character sketch tips are excellent. Thank you, Fran, and also a thank you to Jill for this post.

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  19. What a fascinating process Fran has shared with us, Jill! I never get past plain talking to myself 🙂 Many thanks for an excellent share.

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  20. Thank-you Jill and Fran, for such an interesting post. I am not a writer (I just couldn’t!) but I am a reader and it is fascinating finding out about the writing process.

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  21. Only ten minutes ago Fran I commented on another blog that I envied writers who can frame and write with characters of depth. I was thinking about you at the time! I know my own MCs are superficial really and I rely on plot, pace and location to carry the story. Strangely it’s only a few minor characters that I’ve explored in a little more depth.

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    • Sometimes that’s all it takes, though, Roy – just a few. I’ve been reading JJ Marsh’s Beatrice Stubbs crime books – Beatrice is this quirky fifty-something detective at Scotland Yard. I’m blown away by how little JJ tells about Beatrice and yet, I feel as though I know her. And maybe that comes back to what I said in this post – as long as the author knows them inside and out the points get across. But we do come back to reader’s taste, too. Character driven novels or plot driven – there are readers who really do prefer one over the other. Having been long-winded, I will now move to the main point – thanks so much for thinking of me 🙂

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    • Hi Roy! Fran certainly sets the bar high with the depth of her characters. I’m not an outliner, but I love to get to know my characters through journaling.

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  22. Thanks, Jill, for posting Fran’s very helpful missive on characters! I learned a lot!

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  23. Thanks, Fran! And thanks for sharing Fran with us, Jill. 🙂

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  24. Mary Higgins Clark is famous for the intricate biographies she creates of the characters she writes about, before the first word of the novel is set to page, much of it never appearing anywhere in print. “You have to know it, whether or not you ever tell it,” she says, and I think Francis has the same character development. It makes for rich writing. I look forward to reading her new book! Thanks Jill and Francis.

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  25. I have long chats with my characters on my daily walks as well.

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  26. Vancouver Island??? Whatt??? I’m adding this to my list. 🙂

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  27. I may be late reading this but I really am glad you helped me with character development, Francis. Thank you, Jill for bringing this author back to inform us on this important element of story telling!
    I have written about 3 homeless people in our town, trying to envision their back stories that led them to where they are now.

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    • You’re right on time, Robin. There’s not timeframe for visiting. 🙂
      It was my pleasure to have Fran revisit. She’s so knowledgeable in many aspects of storytelling.
      Very interesting…I wrote a short story where the MC was a homeless child. I’ll be interested to hear more about your story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wrote short essays and call them ” character sketches,” Jill. I wrote a murder mystery a few years back and may try to do it in chapters someday on my blog? Only one of many suspects in my ‘ book ‘ is homeless but I think I need practice in making them come alive. It takes real talent and I admire anyone who does this well, Jill. Hope you and Derek have a great 3 day weekend. Enjoy your parents, too.

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  28. Great ideas, Francis (and thanks for sharing, Jill). Very timely — reminding me that I have a couple more character sketches to do for my novel. A few supporting characters I haven’t quite brought to life.

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  29. Hi Jill, thanks for sharing Fran’s post. As a visual person, I am in awe of the extensive details writers create when developing a character. I will have to hop over and check out her blog. I am intrigued by the title of her series as I grew up about 20 minutes for Crater Lake, Oregon and it is still one of my most inspiring and favorite places.

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  30. Jill thanks for sharing Fran and her wonderful work. I think i started following her from the last time you featured her here. have a great day.

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  31. Jill, thanks for hosting Fran. Great post Fran. I loved how you mentioned your character’s development in the series from book 1 to book 4. It’s amazing how much of our characters we know that never ever goes onto the page but colors everything they do and say. 🙂

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