I’ve written a number of horror stories over the years, a mainstream novel, and a horror suspense novel where many a number of my characters have never made it to the final page. Many of these characters died a most colorful and gruesome death. Some of those persons’ sole purpose in the story was to die, thus giving the reader reason to despise the antagonist, root for the hero or just add depth to the story line (some people say that I’m guilty a gratuitous violence every now and again, but I do try to keep it within the confines of the mood that I’m trying to set). Even if they only show up for one page or even one paragraph, it does it not make them unimportant. No matter how minor the character, without them I’d have a very one-dimensional, and very boring, story. Still, there is no excuse to gloss over their being. Even in death they deserve as much care and soul as the main characters. These figments of my imagination had families and people who cared about them. Do they deserve less? How many times have you gone to a movie or seen on TV people blown away with no more forethought than the space they were taking up? In my mind I always take it a step further. Who’s going to notify their families? What grief and hardship is it going to create? Without my imagination I’ll never know. The producer or director haven’t seemed to give it any thought - or care. In my stories I try to give every character a life - and a past.
Early in my writing life there was a man in my writers’ group who showed me what he used to distinguish each person in his book - a character sketch sheet. It’s probably one of the most important tools I now use. Every character I now create, no matter how minor, has a name, a physical description, a past. The reader might not know every aspect of that person, but hopefully with me knowing their background, the reader will see more than a one dimensional being - someone they can actually care about. And then, of course, there’s the no-brainer why this is such a valuable piece of paper. I can’t count the number of times I’ve put work aside for a while, come back, and . . . were her eyes blue or green? was he driving a honda or toyota? It has saved me hours of backtracking a story. So, my recommendation to all of you writers out there (especially fiction), make yourself a character sketch - and use one for every character in your book. If any of you dear readers out there are interested in the one I’ve adopted, drop me a note and I’ll be happy to email you one.