The Character Growth Worksheet

Character Growth WorksheetIf you’re stuck developing a character for your story, look no further than Jeff ElkinsCharacter Growth Worksheet.
A favourite writing coach, Jeff ‘The Dialog Doctor’ offers excellent free tools, but this one featured as a giveaway in a presentation and isn’t on his website.

There are many, many Character Profile questionnaires, containing a lot of obvious, trivial and unhelpful questions intended to help authors develop characters for stories. Elkin’s Character Growth Worksheet is the best I’ve found so far for useful, creative thinking. I used it to validate my protagonist for the November Challenge Project. It’s a detailed exercise that provided a lot of valuable material to fully develop the character.

Worksheet Topics

Essentially the Worksheet is a list of questions, so you don’t need a fancy formatted document.

Elkins breaks those questions down into:

  • Backstory
  • Personality
  • Voice
  • Emotional range
  • Growth arc
  • Starting State
  • End State
  • Winning and losing
  • Scenes needed for growth
  • The consequences of failure
  • Influences of other characters

Start here…

Describe your character’s backstory.

  • What important events happened in your character’s life before your story begins that shaped your character?
  • Who were the important people in your character’s life before the story begins?
  • At the start of the story, how does your character perceive themselves in relation to their society/culture?
  • How is your character perceived by society/culture?

Taking into account your character’s backstory, describe your character’s personality.

  • How would other characters describe your character?
  • How would your character describe themselves?
  • Describe your character’s personality with three adjectives.
  • Pick the adjective that best defines your character.

Core Voice

Based on the adjectives you selected above, describe your character’s “core” voice. Use the five components of a character voice below to describe how those adjectives sound on the page?

  • Topics – What does the character choose to discuss?
  • Vocabulary – What types of words does the character use?
  • Body Language – What is the character’s typical body language?
  • Utterance Construction – What is the construction of the character’s vocalizations? (Long sentences? Short
  • sentences? Periods? Question marks? Commas?)
  • Participation in a Segment – How often and when does your character speak in a conversation of three or more characters?

Think about the three biggest emotions your character will feel during your story. For each emotion, think about how the components of the character voice will change. Try to only change two or three components for each emotional swing.
(Hint: the bigger the emotion – the bigger the change in the component should be.)

Determine your Character’s Growth Arc

Now that we understand your character’s voice, lets think about how your character is going to change over the course of the story.

  • Describe the primary conflict of your story. What happens?
  • What would it look like if your character “wins” at the end of the story?
  • What would it look like if your character “loses” at the end of the story?
  • What barriers/obstacles does your character need to overcome in order to “win” at the end of the story?
  • What about your character’s behavior or self-understanding is keeping your character from “winning”?
  • How does your character need to change their behavior or self-understanding in order to win?
  • What is your character like at the start of the story (before they have changed)?

New Character voice

As they grow and change:

  • What do they sound like? Is their voice the same as the “core” voice you described above or different?
  • What is your character like at the end of the story (after they have changed)?
  • Pick two or three of the five components of your character’s voice to change. How can you make changes in those components to show your reader your character is different?

Scenes you Need for Growth

Now that you know what your character is like at the beginning of the story and what your character is like at the end of the story, think about the moments your character needs to go through in order to undergo that change.

List a few ways your character will fail to change (times your character loses).

  • Which characters/events in the story influence your lead character to fail?
  • What are the consequence of each failure?
  • For each way you list, write down how your character feels about the failure.

Describe a few moments when your character will experience positive change (times your character wins).

  • How do other characters/events in the story influence your character to change in positive ways?
  • What are the consequences of each success?
  • How does your character feel when they experience the change?

Proof Positive

I ran through this worksheet partway through the first draft of The Sixth Messenger and it helped develop the character of Aeryn Parr. Elkin’s method asks relevant and insightful questions without any of the trivia you find in similar tools.

4 thoughts on “The Character Growth Worksheet”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *