How useful are they? Even late in the game? Very. I find myself on the precipice of tearing apart my wip for the final round of edits before a send-off to agents. I still pull out my character charts because I know, that they help keep me on track on where I’m going, where I’ve been. They list the basics: eye, hair, & skin color, but I find they must delve deeper if the protagonist is to rise above more than just a cardboard cut-out.
It’s important to know their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. What makes them tick, what pulls them apart? What crazy antics set them apart from others in the high school hallways? What make them hide behind their books? All of these traits work to flavor the character, to season them.
What’s their goal? How far will they go to save one they love? Can they react? Or are they paralyzed by fear and forced to watched helplessly as another comes to their loved one’s rescue? Does this become their dirty secret? There’s so much we can play with here. And yet, the character has to remain rooted to their own core. In other words, they have to act true to themselves.
I found myself embellishing a bit of my character’s histories, but not enough to change who they were, why they were. Instead, I added brushstrokes to see into their already developed characters, to open up a whole new world of possibilities to them. I wanted to make them larger than life with a touch of real. After all, if a reader doesn’t identify with them, they won’t read on, period. You have to capture their imagination, bring something alive about Aubrey that the reader will want to go on.
Character studies ground us, and allow our imaginations to soar. There a push-start to a new horizon. So do try them. Stumbling around, trying to invent a character as you go doesn’t work well most of the time. But with a chart, you can sail through, sure that you’re headed in the right direction and everything will blend together.