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October 29, 2008

How Do You Keep Track of Your Characters?

Here’s a question for all you writers out there – both aspiring and published. How do you keep track of a character’s physical attributes, their quirks and baggage? Their family history?

I’m forever forgetting what color eyes I’ve given my characters and little things like that. It’s becoming even more difficult now that I’m thinking about writing book eight in my Middlemarch Mates series.

So, how do you keep track of your characters? Spreadsheets? Notebooks? File cards? An incredible memory? A software program? How do you do it?

PS – Don’t forget to check out Christina Phillips post (just down the page a couple of posts) about how her witchy heroine came to her in a dream. Post a comment and go into a draw to win a download of her debut release.


  1. Sandra

    I keep all my stories in folders. And inside the folder I keep a sheet that I jot the characters characteristics down on. Helps. Its amazing how often I forget eye color:)

  2. JK Coi

    I don’t keep track, although I should. I find myself using the “find” feature on my word program for the colour “blue” and “green” and “hair” whenever I need to go back and remind myself.

  3. Leah Braemel

    I’ve very anal about these things. I always have an Excel spreadsheet set up that lists character name, how they relate to the hero/heroine, eye color, hair color, height, weight, quirks, physical scars/whatever, etc. Actually I have it set up as a workbook with multiple pages – one for a plot timeline, music playlist, I keep track of my daily wordcount for the first draft, any other things – for my last MS I had a sheet of translated phrases because one of the characters speaks Spanish. That way it’s all in one place.

    BUT I’m finding that I often print off the character sheet because lately it’s handier to actually have it on a piece of paper I can pick up and take with me or jot something down as I’m typing rather interrupt the flow by switching pages.

  4. Barbara Martin

    I tend to keep the main characters in my memory, though I make a list of sub-characters with their quirks.

    Now that I’m working on novels 2 and 3 I have made a list of all the characters, plus new ones who have appeared. Also, I have begun making an outline which I never did for the first. I wrote bits and sewed them together, similar to what Diana Gabaldon does. I still write separate portions that belong in different areas, but now I know where they belong.

  5. Jorrie Spencer

    I’ll jot down notes, but mostly I read through my manuscript two zillion times during multiple revisions. That’s when I know my characters forwards and backwards.

  6. Lauren Dane

    I have 3×5 cards for each book where I write down character traits for all my people, details of my world, all that stuff. When I’m done, I rubberband them up and put them in a larger box with the others so I can refer back if I write more in that world or when I’m editing, etc.

  7. Dawn McClure

    I keep index cards on all my characters. I list their traits and their quirks. Then I place them in a little box that I can flip through when I need the information. :grin:

  8. Bree Bridges

    Wiki. I installed a password protected wiki for my writing partner on our server. The way wikis work with their interconnected linking are so very, very perfect for keeping track of universes, characters, ideas, stories. We put character bios in there, plot points, timelines, story ideas… if someone has an Uncle Jack that gets referred to on page 7, he goes in the wiki so in book 3 if we’re wondering who their uncle is, we can go find out that it’s Jack.

    I would be lost without our wiki. I also use it to organize our projects so we know what we’re working on, what’s in edits, what is releasing soon, what’s been submitted and when… fabulous tool.

    The Bree half of Moira Rogers

  9. Shelley Munro

    To date, I’ve been using an exercise book where I’ll jot details. I have exercise books all over the place though, which is why I thought I’d ask this question and see what everyone else does. It’s mainly the physical details I have trouble keeping track of. The personality quirks and backstory baggage tends to stay in my mind okay.

    Bree – I hadn’t considered wikis at all. that’s a great idea and I must investigate further.

    Leah – wow! You sound really organized. :grin:

    I see a few of you use index cards. I guess my notebooks are a form of this, although one notebook covers many unrelated books. I guess that each time I decide on a series I need to have a separate notebook.

  10. Amy W.

    You ladies are all amazing! I don’t know what I would do if I had to write and keep track of all that myself. I do like to read… a lot and I can tell you that I always do a little dance when I spot a character in a series or sequel who has changed characteristics. I’m weird I know. I also think it’s funny when they put the wrong name down. Like there’s two brothers in a book, but this scene is just Jack making love but suddenly it’s David who was removing clothing, then we go back to Jack. they just make me giggle that authors are human too, and make mistakes too.

    That being said I say index cards. Those bad boys are wicked useful for so many things! I use them to keep track of Christmas presents so people don’t get repeats or similar items from year to year. I mean you can’t give Grandma the same fruit basket each year.

  11. Maia Strong

    Being a life-long geek, I use my own version of that D&D standard: a character sheet. It lists name, birthday, height, hair, eyes, history, family, etc. It does not, however, list hit points. ;-)

  12. Colleen Love

    I’m with Maia! Love the D&D way!!
    I also include a loose astrological chart in my character sheets.:)

  13. Shelli Stevens

    If I’m motivated, I do a spread sheet. Otherwise…crtl f. LOL. Search, baby, search! My memory is okay at some points, but at others I get a little lost. Especially if characters show up in more than one book!

  14. Karen Erickson

    Wait a minute…I’m supposed to keep track of my characters????


  15. Shelley Munro

    LOL Karen, my editor makes me. :mrgreen:

    Shelli – I sort of have notes every where and I can never find the right notebook, which is why I need to get a bit more organized.

    Coleen and Maia – what does D & D stand for?

    Amy – ah, another index card fan. I might have to go stationery shopping in the near future. My favorite thing!

  16. Colleen Love

    Hi Shelley!
    I’m so sorry. D&D stands for Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a role playing game that is usually associated with nerdy people. But it is sooooo fun and very addicting. I still use the Monster Manuals to get villan ideas. It’s great!! :grin:
    Now they have all kinds of on line communities supporting the game.

    Hope this helps.

  17. Shelley Munro

    Ah, Colleen. I should have guessed. Where would I find one of these D & D character sheets?

  18. Colleen Love

    I just double checked and google has quite a few different ones listed. I just make my own though. I just list what I use the most in a character. :)


  19. Shelley Munro

    Colleen – thanks for that. I’ll do the google thing. I do have some sheets in a couple of my books on characterization. The thing is after filling out a three page character sheet I get bored with my characters. I like to start off vague and write my way into the character. I guess that’s why I’m not a fan of plotting. I get bored if I know what happens. :lol: