Character Mapping – Do What?!

After reading the title of this post, are you sitting there, scratching your head, wondering what the hell character mapping is? Well, don’t fret because you’re going to find out in this post!

People love characters that seem real. They don’t want some lame-ass, half-defined, limp page dwellers. They want real breathing characters that will become their mental friends, enemies, or even sometimes, lovers. Some people have the ability to make their characters breathe the real of life naturally, while other don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell.

I’m here to give you a few tips on how you can make it happen without straining your brain and pulling your hair out.

Character mapping is like an outline of a specific character. (Yes, I said outline. DON’T PANIC!) It’s really easy. Basically, you want to see your character as a real person so you can write them to seem like a real person in your stories – this includes silly quirks or repeated OCD actions. What do I mean by that? Make them a nail biter when they’re nervous, or a fidgeter, something!

Then come other physical aspects: hair color, eye color, height, build, etc. These are all things you might want to know and remember about your character before you slap them willy-nilly into your imaginative world.

What about the character’s past? What has shaped them into who they are? What makes them tick? What makes them react in certain ways in different circumstances?

Did you just say to yourself ‘But s/he’s not real!‘ and think they don’t have a past? KILL THAT CHARACTER, because s/he’s not going to involve your reader in the story. No, I’m not joking. Do it now! Draw him/her on a piece of paper (even if it’s just a stick figure with a name written in crayon above his/her head or under his/her feet) and tear that paper to shreds. S/he’s a story virus! A murder of all things that tug at the heart strings. Done? Good. Let’s move on.

Your character should have a past and a personality all their own. They should have their own voice, and even their own speech mannerisms that are striking to the reader. They should stand out for the others in the story so that if you don’t use a dialogue tag, everyone knows who’s speaking!

Does all this sound complicated yet? I promised simple…didn’t I?

Here’s where it gets really simple: You map each character out. Still scratching your head?

Okay, I’ll break it down for you. Get a piece of paper and a writing utensil: pen, pencil, stub of a crayon. I’ll wait…

Back yet?

Okay. At the top or the paper, write down a character’s name. Anything you want. Oh, make sure to give them a middle name – this adds to the fun. Next, write if they’re male or female, and how old they are. After that, write their hair color, eye color, height, build, etc.

Now…give that character a trait. It can be something like, oh, I don’t know: constantly rubs their nose because they have allergies, or twirls their hair around their finger when bored or thinking. Write that down.

Next, write down the family history of the character. Maybe they were raised by a single parent in a city, or by random creatures of the forest in an alternate universe. Maybe their middle name (especially if it’s weird) is one used often in the family. Write it down.

Once you have most of that planned out, you’re starting to get a feel for your character. Now, here’s a fun part… Have a conversation with your character (aloud or in your head, whichever you’d like). Ask them a question and wait for an answer. No, I’m not crazy – they’ll talk to you. You’ve just painted the picture of them in your head, DUH! Write down the questions and the answers.

Don’t know what to ask? Here’s a couple ‘simple’ ideas… How about: What’s your fav color? What foods absolutely disgust you? Do you like to wear jeans or dress pants? Candy or bubble gum? Do you lose your temper often, or have a cool demeanor?

Ask questions until, or even beyond, the point where that character is no longer just writing on a page, but a real, living, pulsing person.

What are you going to do with this character once they start breathing on their own? Why write them a story of course! Now that you have a clear view of who and what they are, you can make them dance on the pages and they’ll be more real to your readers. I suggest mapping a bunch of characters (you might want to get a notebook just for this, or make a file just for your characters) and keep them on record for future use. Just keep in mind, you don’t have to use all the information you’ve gleaned on your character in the stories you write about them, but you’ll have a clearer picture in your head of who they are, which will allow you to define how they’ll act in certain situations, etc.

I hope you have fun with this process, because it can be a blast to pull a living, breathing person out of thin air and give them a life in your stories.  Happy mapping and writing.



©Rebecca Besser, 2012. All rights reserved.


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