Sunday, 8 January 2017

How to Add Characters to Your Writing Bullet Journal

Bullet journalling can be both a tantalizing and an overwhelming prospect. You might love the idea of using it to store notes on your characters but have nary a clue where to begin. Today we're going to break down the collections I use in my own bullet journal to keep track of all the information you gather during character creation.

Creating a bullet journal for your writing is an amazing way to stay organized.  Find out how to keep track of your characters in collections within your bullet journal by clicking through to this post! | Something Delicious

Start with the basics of character creation


Every character has its quirks, but, given time, chances are you'll narrow down your character creation process to some key questions and prompts. Start a collection to keep track of these go-to questions and you'll save valuable time the next time you start writing a novel.

Haven't figured out those go-tos just yet? I went over the basics of character creation in a recent blog series, or you can go beyond the basics in Create an Epic Character Foundation.

Once you've gone through any resources or books that catch your fancy, jot down the prompts and questions that appealed to you most in this collection in your bullet journal. Next time you create a character, you'll know exactly where to start!

Create a collection for each main character


Each of your main characters will require a space of their own. I'd suggest setting aside two pages per main character from the start. If you need to add more later on, you can just add them to your index: that's the beauty of bullet journalling!

For main characters, I include things like:

Their name. This could be just the name or the significance behind the name, too.

Their gender and approximate age. Self-explanatory!

Their background. What events from their past inform the person they are today? What events play into the story you're writing?

Their evolution. What is it they want and need at the beginning of the story? How is this achieved and/or how has this shifted by the end of the story?

Their priorities. What do they spend the majority of their time on right now? What short and/or long-term ramifications does this have?

Their motivation. What is their 'why'? What drives their current goals and ambitions?

Their relationships. Who are their VIPs? Who would they hate to disappoint? Who would they turn to when they need support? Who would they take a bullet for? Describe each of these relationships.

By the way, here's one of the awesome things about bullet journalling: when you start a section elsewhere for one of these other characters, you don't have to repeat the whole description of their relationship. Just say something like "see page 'X' for info about their relationship with 'Y'."

Their appearance. Any time you mention something about their appearance in your WIP, jot it down here. That way they won't shift from being 5'9 to 6'3 without your noticing. Not that that happened in one of my rough drafts or anything. >.>

On the other hand, if they cut their hair or change their appearance in some other way, write down what happened and when. Consistency is crucial.

Their speech patterns. What's one word they always use incorrectly? What curse words do they use? Do all their sentences sound like questions?

Don't fret if you can’t fill all of these sections in at once. Just do as much as you can and fill out the rest as you write your way through the story and get to know the character more thoroughly!

Conversely, don't limit yourself to just these sections. Add sections for the people they admire, their favourite quotes (this gives you some good insight into their worldview, sense of humour, and philosophies on life), their hobbies, or anything else you can think of.

Don't forget to put a limit on these optional categories. It can be addicting to discover more and more about the people inhabiting your story. Just make sure you actually tell that story too, eh?

Create a collection for supporting characters


I'm a big believer in supporting characters being as well-drawn as the main character(s), because it contributes to a well told story and a believable world within that story. For the most part, though, I don't go into quite as much depth with supporting characters, so I like bringing them together in one collection, even if that collection does end up spanning a multitude of pages.

For a supporting character, I like to know some or all of the following, depending on the character's relative importance:

Their name. Walk-on characters may not need a name, but supporting characters should at least have a first name, if not a surname.

Their gender and approximate age. Again, self-explanatory.

Their importance to the main character. How do their lives intertwine? How would the main character's life be different without this character in it? How will their presence affect the main character's evolution?

Their interconnections with other characters. Does this character solely interact with the main character or with other characters, as well? What are these connections? Are these connections in flux, subject to change throughout the story, or will they stay static?

Their associated subplots. If this is a relatively minor character, they'll likely play into few of your novel's subplots. Whatever subplots they are involved in can be written down here.

Their current state of affairs. This is where I do a few quick jots about things like their relationship status, employment, and/or current passions. These might not factor into the story at large, but a random friend named Sue who always happens to be free for coffee whenever your character has something to run by them might not be quite as interesting as their librarian friend Sue who has a few minutes on her lunch break but needs to get back, because the book she'd chosen for storytime got coffee spilled all over it and she needs to pick a new one.

Their identifying features or dialogue quirks. If this is a character who you've introduced as having pink hair or a tendency to speak in self-centred monologues, that's not something you want to drop halfway through. Consistency is key to a believable storytelling experience.

Don't forget some master lists


I love lists. I could make lists all day, partly because they're fun and partly because they're as useful as someone who actually knows how to drive the TARDIS. When it comes to keeping characters straight in my bullet journal, there are a few lists that come in handy:

Story appearances. I list each character's name and which chapters they make an appearance in. This way, it's easy to see if a character stops showing up a third of the way through, never to be seen again. You might also notice that, say, your main character's love interest and best friend rarely show up in the same scene. If that's intentional, no problem! If it's not, you can write a scene or two to rectify the situation.

Homes and workplaces. These can be brief descriptions, but the idea is to list the job each significant character has and where they live. Unless you've done it on purpose, if all of your characters live in bohemian apartments or none of them have 9 to 5 office jobs, you might want to rethink a few things so it doesn't come off as overly coincidental or samey.

Updating the index


Don't forget to update your index to account for each of these new pages!

A collection for Character Creation Basics can easily have its own listing in the index.

I'd suggest giving each of your main characters their own listing ("[Main Character Name] for [WIP name]"). Add the page number for their character-specific collection. Then, any time you reference them in one of your other collections, add that page number, as well.

Truly significant supporting characters could each have their own listing, too, or you can just add them to the index under "supporting characters for [WIP name]".

For easiest reference, if you create some of the lists we talked about earlier for story appearances or homes and workplaces, you’ll want to add those individually to your index.


As it stands, that's the gist of how I keep track of characters in my bullet journal! If that evolves over time (and I'm sure it will), I’ll make sure to update this post with any new developments.

Feeling overwhelmed? Please don't be! This takes a bit of time to set up (maybe a couple of writing sessions, if you're really focused) but once you have, you'll love how easy it is to look back and reference all the important information about your characters, especially once you've indexed everything.

To help you get started, I’ve created a checklist of everything we’ve talked about today. Just click here to pick it up.

Any questions?  Feel free to run them by me in the comments below!  Otherwise, go forth and bullet journal! ^_^


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my introductory post on Bullet Journalling for Fiction Writers, where I share some of my favourite tools and other must-have collections, or the ebook Decluttering for Writers.

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