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#FirstDraft60 Day 7: Getting Your Characters into S.H.A.P.E. #amwriting #nanoprep #nanowrimo

Saturday, October 8, 2016

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comYesterday, we started building our characters by introducing them to ourselves and to all the other characters in the story by asking four questions. Today, we’re going to go deeper with our characters and chart out who they are as people.

Get Your Characters into S.H.A.P.E.
This acrostic is something that I picked up at a retreat fifteen or twenty years ago, and I’ve taught it and used it with different groups many times since then. However, it’s only been in the last few years that I realized it would be great to help in developing/getting to know my fictional characters. It’s a great way to figure out who your characters are, which goes hand-in hand with figuring out their backstory, which we’ll be working on next week. But today, we’re going to work on getting our characters into S.H.A.P.E.:

#FirstDraft60 Get Your Characters into SHAPE | KayeDacus.comSPIRITUALITY: Not just for those writing Christian or inspirational fiction, this is something important for all writers to know about all of your main characters, because the characters’ morals and values, and thus their actions, reactions, and decision making, will hinge on what they believe about life and the afterlife and the value of both.

HEART: What is your character passionate about? What are his desires? Her goals? What does she want to do with her life? What does he want to accomplish by the time he’s 30, 50, 70?

ABILITIES: This goes beyond their physical abilities (walk, run, talk, etc.). What have they learned to do? Is she a Victorian girl who’s learned to use a typewriter in hopes of getting a job to support herself instead of marrying someone she doesn’t love? Has he learned to train guard dogs and police canines? But then, what are their inborn talents? Those things with which we would say he or she is “gifted”?

PERSONALITY: What is your character’s personality type? This is where you can really have fun. Find out your character’s Meyers-Briggs type by taking the test as your character. If you don’t want to take the test, you can read about personality types. Introverts and Extroverts “recharge” differently and react differently in public and private settings. Thinkers and Feelers come to decisions in totally different ways. And so on. Make your character more dimensional by giving him or her a complete personality.

EXPERIENCES: What are your character’s life experiences? What have your characters been through in their lives to make them who they are when they step onto Page 1 of your story? This is the bulk of the backstory, which everything else plays off of and is affected by. This part makes a really good lead-in to writing out the characters backstory, because it can include:

  • Family makeup/background. What size family does he come from? How many siblings? Were both parents present? Did she have a good relationship with them? What was his relationship with his siblings like? Did she love her family or could she not wait to escape? And so on.
  • Education. Whether formal or self-taught, one’s education is crucial to who they are as a person. Did they have all the benefits of an upper-class private/Ivy League education? The scrappier, American-dream public school education? Or maybe she had to drop out in eighth grade and go to work to support the family. And even if someone went to school and got a college degree, that doesn’t make them “intelligent” or “learned.” That just means that they have a couple of pieces of paper. How intellectual is your character? How smart? How street-smart? How wise? How knowledgeable? How does this compare to the people around him/her?
  • Favorites. Color, food, music, entertainment, etc. What are the things that give your character a good quality of life? (Or would if they had access to them.) Get creative and have fun with these.

And here’s the example of a SHAPE table that I did for one of the characters (Stone) I was working with last year:

#FirstDraft60 Get Your Characters into SHAPE |

Once you have all of this down you should have a good understanding of who your character is. The reason I try to figure as much of this out before writing is that it saves me time in revision after finishing the first draft if I don’t have to go back and edit out long stream-of-consciousness scenes in which I’m inside the character’s head digging into backstory I didn’t know before I started writing. But no matter how detailed I get with this, I always have a few revelations about my characters—things I never would have known about them until they were faced with a crisis and forced to own up to something from the past they kept deeply hidden, even from me.

I’ll be working on this today for the characters of my current story, so this is why I may not have anything to share in the comments until late in the day.

Assignment: Create and complete, as best as you can, a S.H.A.P.E. chart for each of your main/viewpoint characters in your Story Bible.

How will figuring out the S.H.A.P.E. of your character(s) help you in developing your story?

  1. Saturday, October 8, 2016 11:50 am

    I had a writers’ get-together this morning and then I came straight to the library— because I knew if I went home, I’d lose the excitement/momentum that I always come away even from casual writers’ meetings with. Getting ready to work on my SHAPE chart:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol permalink
    Saturday, October 8, 2016 1:05 pm

    Working on this now. Perfect follow up to the four questions!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Saturday, October 8, 2016 1:36 pm

    So, um, I got started on the SHAPE chart . . . and then an idea about my hero’s background struck me. So I stopped and “scenario-ed” that out before I lost that train of thought.


    Liked by 2 people

  4. loridee21 permalink
    Sunday, October 9, 2016 5:02 pm

    Love this SHAPE chart idea! Hopefully, fingers crossed, I can work on this tonight.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Shirley Taylor permalink
    Tuesday, October 11, 2016 5:45 pm

    Finally got this done just now! Feeling really good about it all except the personality part…just way less detailed than the rest so will have to flesh out a bit more later. Can’t wait for today’s assignment but for now will quickly comment on yesterday’s. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wednesday, October 12, 2016 10:33 pm

    Just finished my chart for my POV character. This was a challenging exercise. I had a hard time coming up with what she considers gives her a good quality of life. I think I’m focusing so much on her backstory that I don’t know her very well in the present. But I’ll get there–this has helped!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tuesday, October 18, 2016 1:00 am

    Finished my SHAPE chart for Kenny. It went better than I thought. Lots of room to add more as I think about things to add.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tuesday, October 25, 2016 9:45 pm

    Finally finished my SHAPE chart for my POV character. On to the next item.

    Liked by 1 person


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