Jun 11


In another post I mentioned the idea of using the alphabet to keep from having too many characters whose names that not only begin with the same letter, but are even similar in the number of letters. Imagine having a story with characters named Betsy, Betty, Bessie, and Bossy. In screenwriting where the character’s name is over the dialogue, characters with similar names become very confusing.

Be it short stories, plays, screenplays or novels, it’s a good plan to keep track of all your characters, major, minor and even insignificant. What I’ve started doing is to have a Character List where I have an alphabet and whenever I introduce a character, I enter the character and a thumbnail sketch of information I know about them.

Here’s an example:

Doris Meany — 50’s, overweight, beady black eyes, beautiful complexion, nursing supervisor, divorced, mother of daughter who is missing in action in Afghanistan,

Able Ryan — 40’s, muscled, freckled, thinning red hair, disbarred lawyer turned private detective, married to an alcoholic, drug abuser who is in recovery

Melvin Thao — a Mong, (Hmong, Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand) shorter than his partner, oriental looking, shaved head. He carries a .40 Glock 19 in a shoulder holster w/ 2 extra clips, and a Beretta 21 Bobcat, .22 in an ankle holster.

As I proceed with the story and the character develops or I discover more information about an already introduced character, I add to their paragraph on my Character List. I’ve found that when a character turns up again it is so nice to have their basic info easily at hand to both remind me who they are, and to note what parts of their character I’ve not created or revealed.

It also helps keep the names from being in a part of the alphabet I’ve already used by eliminating each letter from my alphabet as I use it. I only count one letter of the alphabet per character because I figure a character will primarily be known by either first or last name, maybe even a nick name, and that’s why I underline that letter in the character’s name on this list. Like this:















Particularly in longer pieces, novel, scripts, it’s good to have all the character info in an easily accessible place. If you’re one of those who does not outline and just create your story as you go, you’ll find a list like this very helpful when you discover a character you had almost forgotten about who suddenly becomes a key player.

I used to think I would get an intern back when I was still teaching full time, to go through all my 30 odd screenplay and half dozen stage plays, as well as my novels and short stories and do this kind of thing for all my characters. But back then, I was thinking about putting the information on a 3 X 5 card. Doing this myself as I go now is easy.

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