As part of my build-a-book series of posts, in which I share my process for writing my work-in-progress, a contemporary small-town romance called The Fund Feud, I want to talk about how I take my characters from rough sketches to more fully conceptualized people. Once that initial dynamic is established, I do character sketches for each of the two leads of my story – the hero and the heroine – and then I like to make some supplementary materials to help me better get to know them.
Character Sketch Worksheet
For each of the characters, I jot down notes in the following categories. These are still pretty rudimentary, but it helps the characters start to more fully come to life for me. It helps me imagine: if they were to walk into a party as strangers to me, what might I notice about them? What energy surrounds them?
What is her eye color? Hair texture? What is her personal style like? What body type does she have? What’s her height? Does she have any distinct mannerisms or unconscious sorts of fidgets? Include any other details that may be relevant to the character and their story.
Did he go to college, if so, where? (Or does it matter?) What did he major in (and did he pick it just to make his parents happy?) What’s his relevant career history? Did these choices result in relocation? Has he lived lots of places? Is he a wanderer, or seeking out roots? What might that tell us about him, and his motivations?
As I mentioned in my last post, most of my main characters have some sort of sensitive spot, vulnerability, or “inner wound.” This is typically related to something from their past, be it previous romantic relationships, family dynamics from childhood, etc. This is often something that results in their hesitancy around a new relationship, or their ability to be a certain way for another person.
It’s pretty important to me that my characters have trusted confidants, and I love writing friendships. Who can your characters turn to when they’re feeling frazzled by their love interest? Who can they vent to? Whose shoulder will they cry on? Who will give them tough talk from a place of love? Additionally, what’s the character’s family situation? Are they close with parents? Siblings? Cousins? Or is there tension there?
What kind of energy does each character bring to a room? How might they be interpreted by someone just meeting them? Do they wear their heart on their sleeve, or are they impossible to read? Are they bubbly/chatty, or quietly observant? Do they divulge way too much information or are they like a sealed vault?
Do they have any obsessions? Distinguishing features (physical or personality wise)? Any secret fondnesses or quirky hobbies or quietly simmering dreams that no one else might know about?
Once the character sketch is done, I move onto the next phase: making a vision board for the book on Pinterest, and beginning to think about a playlist for the couple/book.
Vision Boards and Playlists
To help these characters, and the couple, come to life, I love to create a Pinterest board for each book. The pinterest board allows me to begin to visualize the people and places of my story in real life. The links aren’t usually relevant; it’s mostly just a handy way to look at a bunch of images at once, but it’s fun to start to imagine — what outfit might she wear? What does Main Street look like? And to slip in little inside jokes that readers will enjoy. Yes, I swear, every one of these images will make sense after you read this story. And no, Justin Trudeau is not in the book, but man butts that look reeeallly nice in dress pants do play heavily. 🙂 Here’s a link to the board in progress for The Fund Feud, but I’ll share a screenshot below, too:
The other thing I do to try to get into the right headspace to write a story is to pick a song for the couple, or perhaps create a mini playlist. This is a trick many authors use, especially if they need to switch gears in their day to begin writing. How do I switch off “mom/wife/professor” mode and get back into the hearts and minds of these characters I’m writing? Music is a really helpful tool for that. I’m still thinking through the music of this couple/book, but these two songs have already been on repeat:
When Jess Vonn isn’t writing romance novels, she’s reading them (way past her bedtime.) She writes spicy but romantic books with sexy, playful men and quirky, funny women and wonderful groups of “found friends.” She’s the author of the smalltown “Love by The Seasons” series. Her books are available on Amazon, and via Kindle Unlimited.
Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! She’s on TikTok, too, though in all fairness, she has no idea what she’s doing on there…