Keeping Your Characters In Line



Impossible? I used to think so.

I know that my characters tend to just do whatever they please, whether I like them to or not. I’ve even tried punishing some of them to try and pull them back into line, but I’ve discovered that, in so doing, I have just managed to make them even more rebellious. Whether I drown them, or break their hearts, give them heart attacks or other near death experiences I still have not been able to get them to understand that I am in charge. I am the boss, the authority. I brought them into this world, and I can take them out of it dangnabbit!

And this is only for the characters in one manuscript!

If you are anything like me (and I know there are a few of you out there) you’ll likely have more than one MS on the go at once (in my case, I have about seven on the go at the moment). So the problem of misbehaving characters becomes even more pronounced. They try to jump between manuscripts, try to confuse me with their doppleganger abilities. Sometimes they even disguise themselves as someone else within their own manuscripts, some even try to change their own names! Honestly, the cheek of it all.

So the question is, how do you keep your characters in line. How do you make them behave? Especially with several MS’s on the go (like crazy ol’ me)?

I’ve developed a couple of strategies.

1. COPIOUS NOTES – I have handwritten notebooks coming out the wazoo.

2. CHARACTER FACT SHEETS – If you google character fact sheets or something to that effect, you will be able to download sheets with questions about your character. All you have to do is fill in the blanks. Some are fairly simple (which you would use for minor characters) and some ask the most personal of questions…and LOTS of them. By the time you have filled one of these out you will know your character better than they know themselves.

3. INDEX CARDS – This is the one that I find the most useful. Buy yourself a pack of index cards (whatever size you want) and at the top of each one write your character’s names, then highlight their name in a funky colour (I use a different colour for each MS I’m working on). Underneath their name you then right down their age, how they fit into the story and their relationship with the other characters, physical characteristics and their personalities. I like to also then search the interwebs for pictures of people I think look like my characters. I then print them out and paste the pictures onto the index cards as well.  If you do this for each character for each MS and then keep them filed NEATLY, you will always have a reference for your characters, thus keeping them in line.

If you have any other ideas for keeping your characters in line and in their own stories, please share with a comment. We would love to know how you go about it.

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Suse Hocking is a wife and mother, a mad-keen reader and wannabe writer. She also dabbles in the freelance editing industry. You can follow her on her own blog – The Scribbling Post – on Facebook  – and on Twitter.


  1. Great post Suse. I use the character profile sheet in Scrinever for keeping track of who’s who. I use photo’s, descriptions, and basic info. But I find my characters still misbehave frequently. It’s like they’ve got a mind of their own. How dare they! Usually at the end of my chapters they veer off the plot and wind up getting themselves in situations I don’t know how to get them out of.



  2. I use pinterest! Just a little bit… 😉 I mostly write one book at a time (except for recently) but my main WIP is a series, so the characters just develop as I write more books. There are some good ideas here! I like the idea of having charts and lists.



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