Dec 30

Character Cheat Sheet Workshop

In January, I’m giving an online workshop for the San Diego RWA chapter called “Character Cheat Sheet: Shortcuts to Writing Multi-Dimensional, Empathetic Characters”.  It’s one of my favourite workshops because I believe the strength of any story begins with characters that the reader can relate to; characters who aren’t cardboard cut-outs or stereotypes.


That’s not to say that different characters don’t perform certain functions. Of course you can have character types, such as “the best friend”, “the mentor”, “the girl next door”, “the nurturer” and so on. What takes these characters beyond “stock” types is the qualities they possess, and the depth that you, as a writer, bring to them.

Each character has his or her own backstory, and things that have shaped them into the person they are today. They have things they want, and reasons why they want them (usually rooted in backstory). They have their own distinctive traits that make them into individuals and not just a function. Characters need to have appeal, and they have to elicit empathy, too – even the villains.  When you consider that you have a couple of main characters in each story, and then a supporting cast, it’s a big job sorting all that out. Granted, your secondary characters don’t need the same level of depth as your protagonists, but they do need enough depth that you’re not just skimming the surface.

I developed this workshop after reading Karl Iglesias’s WRITING FOR EMOTIONAL IMPACT, which gave me a framework for my “shortcuts”. It explains how to achieve depth but also has lists of traits and needs and qualities to reference, or at least use as a launching pad. What usually happens for me, as a writer, is that one word or scenario will give me a whole other idea, but it serves as the initial inspiration that gets the creative juices flowing. In a way, the lists work like having your own brainstorming buddy.

If anyone’s interested in taking the workshop, it’s available via the San Diego chapter at http://rwasd.com/training/index_alward.html. I’m also giving it in person at the New England Chapter of RWA Conference in April.