Character Tracking for Fantasy
By Brenda Jenkins Kleager
Brenda Jenkins Kleager
(The chart for this article
can be downloaded in PDF format here)
While teaching full-time, I started
just fewer than a dozen novels, but never finished one. After taking an
early retirement, I have had time to complete a full-length novel as a
result of successfully completing the National Novel Writing Month
The time period, genre and character
types came to me as naturally as breathing. However, as my plot
developed, and new characters demanded to appear, I had difficulty
keeping track of the names and traits of each character. This common
dilemma seems especially challenging for the writer of fantasy when
characters have a variety of abilities, weaknesses and nonhuman
Out of self-defense against massive
rewrites and self-confusion, I developed the Character Tracking Form for
Fantasy Writers. Its focus is the medieval times of wizards, druids and
witches, but it can be used with equal success for other times, realms
An excellent book that I turn to again
and again when trying to determine specific characteristics for fantasy
races or individuals is The Complete Fantasy Reference. The
Writer’s Digest editors could have aptly titled the work, The
Complete Fantasy Characters Reference. The authors looked at
traditional views of nontraditional humans and creatures. It also gives
historical facts about clothing, dwellings, weapons and economics of
medieval times. Many of the ideas for my tracking chart have come from
My Character Tracking Form for Fantasy
Writers begins with the character’s name Simple enough? Never. Names
convey much and should never befuddle the reader. By having an
individual sheet for each named character, the author can easily
rearrange the pages to ensure that the names neither begin nor end with
the same confusing sounds; for example Thor, Thur, Thain, Thern.
The first three categories deal with
clan, family and race. You may need all three for your work or just one
or two. You may also want to rename one of the categories. Make it work
for you. If the king, lord or whoever does battle, you will probably
want to give the army specific colors and perhaps a symbol such as a
The next categories have spaces for
recording the age and physical features of the characters, which are
important but rarely overlooked by the author.
Descriptions for characters’ speech
should be specific and different for each character who appears
repeatedly. A character of high rank in the society might speak
formally, while one of his or her warriors might use more crude speech.
Other characters could use curt, short phrases when speaking- or long
rambling discourse. Some might take on the unique accents reminiscent of
our deep south, ancient Scotland or an original accent made up by the
author. A serving maid might seem ditsy or more intelligent than her
master or mistress. In addition, the character will probably have a
habitual exclamation or a phrase he or she repeats. “Fie!” and “Praise
the gods” would be good ones.
Normal skills refer to things that
humans (or the dominant race) usually are able to do. The character may
have developed a common skill due to an interest or talent in the area.
These could include art, sword fighting, woodworking, cooking, and
logic. Alternately, a character could show an unexpected lack of skill
in an expected area. How about a prince who is extremely klutzy at
swinging a sword?
In fantasy fiction that has elements of
magic or supernatural the author must keep the magic consistent among
characters and / or character types. For example all wizards might be
able to drawn down storms, but Merlin always added the color purple to
his lightening. The fantasy author would need to keep these assumptions
constant throughout the book. If there are several wizards who each use
different colors for lightening, the author needs make sure that
Merlin’s lightening is always purple and that Goloren’s lightening is
always green. Or if there are wizards, witches, sorcerers, and druids in
the novel, the author should create specific magical abilities for each
class. Use the section on the tracking form to keep a record of magical
abilities for each character.
Magical weaknesses for characters can
be recorded too. No matter how strong the character’s abilities are,
there must be at least one weakness in the character’s magic – or the
character must be able to be negatively affected by another’s abilities
whether magic or not.
Even minor characters have agenda. What
is it that the character is trying to do? Save the world, find a wife,
discover a way to Avalon? Keep the character’s goal or motivation handy
for quick reference.
Record the intelligence of each
character, whether perceived or actual. Enough said.
How a character dresses day-to-day
shows the character’s status and could give clues as to his or her
personality. You might want to record clothing specifics for various
occasions. Be sure to include any accessories that might be worn at all
times; a torc, a broach, a necklace.
The character’s social class will
affect how the character acts when with others, as well as how others
respond to him or her. Small nuances could signal a plot clue. If a lord
doesn’t bow quite as low as expected to a king, the lord may be planning
to overthrow the king’s court.
The character’s function and / or role
in the tale may or may not be determined by social class. The function
of a lady’s maid could include her role as the lady’s confidant as well.
The same is true of how the character
is addressed and how others address the character. Calling a lord “sir”
or “lord” is a sign of respect. On the other hand, calling a lord “lad”
or by his name would be a sign of familiarity or insult.
Mannerisms are unconscious actions that
characters repeat in certain circumstances. Lord Kieram might look at
his feet when faced with making an important decision. His daughter,
Princess Aslata, might flutter her eyelashes in the presence of a
An opportunity to blend setting and
characters comes when you describe the places that a character
frequents, especially where he or she lives. You will further establish
characters’ social classes as well as personality clues. Include details
as well as general impressions of spaces in your characters’ lives.
Look to reference books and online
resources to give each of your characters distinct and believable
personalities. Also, read a bit about personality disorders. Feeling
Good by David Burns is a good title for this area of research. His
book includes psychological aspects of anger, love, entitlement,
approval and other topics.
Paul and Barbara Tieger detail sixteen
basic personality types. By varying the degrees of each dimension, you
will have more than enough choices to depict each of your characters –
even if they share the same four aspects of personality.
My terms interpretation of the Tiegers’
continuum of individual traits follows:
Extraverts – Introverts
Reality Focus – Possibility Focus
Logical, Competitive, Tactless –
Intuitive, Sensitive, Like Harmony
Black and White Opinions – Shades of
Keep in mind that a character could be
a tactless introvert who looks at all options before making a decision
(possibility focus), but whose judgments of others tend to be quick
(black and white opinions).
In The Writer’s Guide to Character
Traits, Linda Edelstein includes sections on group influences on
people, nonverbal and verbal communication, and emotions. The author
uses convenient lists which makes a quick job of looking up a variety of
characteristics. Authors of any fiction would find this book useful to
develop roles of leaders, scapegoats and seducers as well as other
fascinating characters. Use the information to analyze your fantasy
characters and to complete the last few items on my chart.
The final three categories on the cart
are related to each other. Look back over the personality traits of your
character. What one positive characteristic stands out and will serve to
describe him/her best? Likewise, what one negative characteristic could
be the character’s downfall if not kept in check or changed? In order
for the character to succeed in his / her goal the character will
probably have to undergo some kind of inner change which is usually the
character’s greatest weakness. And the character will use his / her
dominant inner strength to finally reach the goal. By looking at one
strength and one weakness for each of the main viewpoint characters, the
story’s goal, obstacles and final success will be easier to write.
Although successful fantasy fiction
must have strong plots and good story lines; this genre, perhaps more
than others, relies on unique characters that the author is obligated to
fully depict. I hope that my Character Tracking Form for Fantasy Writers
and this article will make the task of creating your magical characters
as fun as plotting their journeys throughout your realms.
Just Your Type: Create the
Relationship You’ve Always Wanted Using the Secrets of Personality
Type, Paul D. Tieger and
Barbara Barron-Tieger. Brown, Little and Company, 2000. ISBN
The Writer’s Complete Fantasy
Reference, David H.
Borcherding and others. Writer’s Digest Books, 1998. ISBN
The New Mood Therapy. David D. Burns, M.D. Quill, 2000. ISBN
software. Dramatica theory developed by Chris Huntley and Melanie
Anne Phillips, 1999. Screenplay Systems, Inc. Patent # 5,734,916
The Writer’s Guide to Character
Traits. Linda N.
Edelstein, PhD. Writer’s Digest Books, 1999. ISBN 0-89879-901-5