In this article, I’ll share how to create a Character Template and develop realistic emotions and behaviors using Scrivener 3 for macOS.
Characters and plot go together like wet and water. Plot events force characters to face conflicts.
But it’s how your characters react that conveys a wide range of feelings to your readers.
Stories that deliver meaningful life lessons resonate with audiences.
But this requires finesse because your readers can sense whether a character’s emotions and behaviors portray realistic reactions to plot events.
Scan unfavorable book reviews and you’ll see readers mention the author’s failure to deliver what the audience expected.
So how can you create realistic human reactions, the kind that make characters leap off the pages and satisfy the expectations of audiences?
I’ll show you how to replace Scrivener’s basic Character Sketch with a dynamic development tool, one you can use to profile protagonists and antagonists.
- Learn how to update the Character Sketch and add inspirational images.
- Discover a time-proven method to convey realistic emotions and behaviors.
At the end of this post, download the free template, a Character Sketch you can continue updating to meet your writing needs.
Basic Character Sketch
A few of Scrivener’s Project Templates include the basic Character Sketch.
For example, to view the contents of a basic Character Sketch:
- Open a New Project in Scrivener
- Select Fiction
- Click Novel
- Name and save the file
You’ll find the Character Sketch stored within the Template Sheets folder. It’s a simple document, a list of prompts that you can edit, rename, or replace.
Think of the Character Sketch as an outline of prompts, and you respond to each.
The Character Sketch is only one of the many potential ways you can create and use documents stored in Template Sheets.
You can design an outline with prompts to complete a variety of tasks (e.g., a Character Sketch to profile a person, a Setting Sketch to describe a location, etc.).
In Scrivener’s binder, click the expansion-dart on the Template Sheets folder.
Then select Character Sketch to view the document, and you’ll see these prompts:
- Character Name
- Role in Story
- Physical Description
To add a new document based on a Template Sheet, in Scrivener’s binder, select the Characters folder. Then:
- Right-click and select Add and select New From Template
- Select Character Sketch and change the binder’s document name to a Character’s name
But before we change the basic sketch, let’s start with the end in mind.
Character Development Goal
You can preplan characters, allow organic growth, or combine methods.
Regardless of the method, strive to achieve three things:
- Convey emotions that capture and hold readers’ interest.
- Supply thoughts, dialog, and actions that support the plot.
- Move the story forward.
Character Sketch Updates
You can personalize the Character Sketch for your writing style and genre. But how?
I found useful these books on emotions by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi:
- The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
- The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma
Besides learning more about emotions, I also needed to organize my thoughts. For example, I wanted to wrap my mind around how to create realistic character behaviors that would stir the feelings of readers. So I kept searching for what would work for my writing style and genre.
I read K.M. Weiland’s ebook: Crafting Unforgettable Characters, and you can click here to get a free copy of her book.
While reading Crafting Unforgettable Characters, I found an unfamiliar term that made me wonder:
What is an enneagram?
This Wikipedia page describes the Enneagram of Personality as a test that aligns an individual’s traits to one of nine types.
Enneagram defines these nine types and displays them on a geometric figure called an enneagram.
And now I had a new question to ponder:
How can enneagram types help develop characters?
The nine enneagram types
To understand how the system works, I studied The Enneagram Institute website.
Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson founded The Enneagram Institute in 1997.
They also coauthored a book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth of the Nine Personality Types.
In reading their book, I could envision how the nine types reflected real-world emotional and behavioral traits as people faced positive and negative events.
How do the enneagram types differ?
Even with the information available on enneagrams, I still needed to sort the details and create realistic profiles.
So for quick reference, I created this Story Character Blueprint.
The Story Character Blueprint shows each enneagram type, core tendencies, and includes basic fear, basic desire, and stress reaction.
Excited about possibilities of using enneagram types, I drafted a new Character Sketch.
Enhance Character Sketches with Types
I wanted the enneagram types to help me develop:
- Protagonists with flaws that surface as they transition from healthy to unhealthy emotions and behaviors.
- Antagonists who see themselves as the heroes and heroines of their own stories, and don’t come off as cliched villains.
- Other Cast Members who play limited roles but add incremental emotions and behaviors that affect the story.
Progress characters based on Development
The enneagram descriptions integrate with the details shown in The Emotional Wound Thesaurus.
Authors can select one of the nine types and choose the development level. Based on the state of the character, the emotions and behaviors range from best (i.e., secure) to worst (i.e., stress).
As writers, we can use this information to create reactions to plot events, progressing the levels upward (healthy) or downward (unhealthy).
I constructed a blueprint of the Enneagram Levels of Development as a quick reference to show a character’s range of emotions and behaviors:
- Healthy: Levels one to level three
- Average: Levels four to level six
- Unhealthy: Levels seven to nine
A high-resolution copy of the Character Development Matrix comes with the free template.
Development Levels Example
Below you’ll find excerpts from the lead character’s profile I created for a thriller novel.
In this example, you’ll find that the Type 8: THE CHALLENGER offered many positive and negative traits for developing the story’s hero, Kyle West.
The Starting Point
- Current Development: At Level 6 (Average), Kyle became combative and intimidating to get his way, creating adversarial relationships.
- Everything became a test of wills, and Kyle would not back down.
- He used threats at work and even reprisals to get obedience and keep others off balance and insecure.
- But unjust treatment made others fear and resent him, and they also banded together against him.
- When he used these behaviors on his boss, Kyle got fired (i.e., another significant event and emotional wound).
Changes as Character Becomes More Stressed
- Stress Progression: Based on his words and angry behaviors, Kyle seemed vengeful and even barbaric.
- At work, people gossiped and wondered if Kyle would seek revenge and become murderous.
- Kyle’s confrontational behaviors appeared at odds with his persona prior to the deaths of his wife and parents.
- If he continues in Stress, he’ll spiral downward with negative emotions and behaviors.
- Level 7 (Unhealthy): Defying control attempts, Kyle becomes ruthless, and dictatorial.
- He trends toward the criminal and outlaw, renegade, and con-artist.
- Kyle becomes hard-hearted, immoral and violent.
- Level 8 (Unhealthy): At this level, Kyle develops delusional ideas about his power, invincibility, and ability to prevail.
- Kyle believes he’s omnipotent, invulnerable, and over-extends self.
- Level 9 (At Worst): If in danger, Kyle may destroy everything opposed to his will rather than surrender.
- He’s vengeful, barbaric, and murderous.
- He may develop sociopathic tendencies, corresponding to Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Changes as Character Becomes More Relaxed
- Secure Progression: The prior two years caused Kyle to slip into aggressive and confrontational behaviors.
- But if he masters self, he can use his strengths to improve others’ lives, becoming heroic.
- If he continues Secure, he’ll progress upward toward healthy emotions and behaviors.
- Level 5 (Average): Kyle dominates his environment and people: wants to feel that others support his efforts.
- Swaggering, boastful, forceful, and expansive, he’s the “boss” whose word is law.
- Proud, egocentric, Kyle still wants to impose his will and vision on everything.
- He still has flaws, but better emotions and behaviors than a Level 6.
- Level 4: Self-sufficiency, financial independence, and having enough resources are important concerns for Kyle.
- He becomes enterprising, pragmatic, “rugged individualists,” wheeler-dealer.
- He’s now seen as risk-taking, hardworking, and denying his own emotional needs.
- Level 3 (Healthy): He’s now decisive and authoritative, the natural leader others respect.
- Kyle takes initiative, makes things happen.
- He champions people and protects.
- He’s seen as honorable and carries others with his strength.
Backstory Influences Level of Development
You might wonder: What would cause the hero to fall from a Level 3 to a Level 6?
In Kyle’s backstory, he was a Level 3 before the unsolved murder of his wife. A tragic automobile accident killed his parents, who were on their way to attend his wife’s funeral. As the plot unfolds, readers grasp that Kyle teeters on the edge of an emotional abyss. Over several pages (i.e., Act 1 through Midpoint of Act 2), the backstory dribbles out, readers discover why Kyle feels and behaves as a Level 6.
But even though Kyle has plenty of flaws, the backstory also suggest he has tremendous upside potential.
Readers want an emotional payoff—to see Kyle change—so they keep turning pages!
The audience hopes Kyle will become worthy of Susie (his love interest) as they race to solve the murder before the killer strikes again. Readers want an emotional payoff—to see Kyle change—so they keep turning pages.
How to Use Scrivener Template Sheets
Template Sheets are documents that take on special characteristics when stored in the Template Sheets folder.
Scrivener makes Template Sheets available whenever you:
- Right-click in the binder on a folder (e.g., Characters)
- Highlight Add
- Select New from Template
- Select a document within the Template Sheets folder (e.g., Character Sketch)
Once you complete the above steps, the Character Sketch is ready to use. You can assign a name to the document within the binder. Then open the document in the editor and complete the Character Sketch prompts.
The creation and use of Template Sheets can improve consistency and increase productivity.
Only your imagination limits template uses.
For example, create an array of Template Sheets:
- Character Sketch
- Character Driven Beat Sheet
- Setting Sketch
- Genre Mystery
- Genre Thriller
- Secrets and Twists
- Crime Motives and Means
- Symbols and Motifs
- Clues and Misdirects
How do you identify Template Sheets?
Documents stored within the Template Sheets folder have a small light-blue “T” affixed to the assigned icon.
Move a document into the Template Sheets folder and the special icon appears.
How to make a new Character Sketch
You can create a new document or change an existing Template Sheet. For example:
- Duplicate a document, move it into the Template Sheets folder, and rename
- Edit the document contents to fit your writing needs
- Use a document moved into Template Sheets to start a new document
As another example:
- Create a custom Event Sketch
- Include prompts for event dates, characters, and details
- Refer to the named Event Sketch as you write
You can include instructions in your Template Sheets. Plus, your personalized notes make it easier to recall and use the time invested in learning.
Although many websites offering character profiles, I did not find one for Scrivener that also prompted for enneagram types.
So I revised my Character Sketch, included enneagram prompts, and added instructions.
How do you load an image into the Character Sketch?
For inspiration, load images of your story’s cast.
As an example, search for an image to serve as a character’s avatar. Keep in mind this image is for your private use. So select a photo of anyone who you think best represents your character.
Select an individual named in The Wisdom of the Enneagram. Then search the web for images of that person.
Once you’ve download an image, make sure the Scrivener’s Inspector is visible, select the Synopsis, and within the Synopsis window, click the picture Toggle to show the image.
This changes the Synopsis from text to accept an image.
Drag and drop an image of your character into the Synopsis.
Once you’ve added images to each profile, highlight your Characters folder in the binder. Then select Corkboard to see all the character images.
Now you have an inspirational image for each character. In the Inspector, you can add a short text synopsis of a character’s role, and in the editor, you can view the details.
Free Character Template!
Thank you for sticking with me to the end of this Scrivener tutorial. To get the free TYB Character Sketch, along with high-resolution images of the blueprints and matrix, let me know where to send the file. I’ll also sign you up for article updates.
I look forward to reading your thoughts on the Character Sketch. Send me your feedback and questions using the Contact form.