Character History: Research and Organizational Tips

A writer discovers characters by inspiration or by accident. Their stories are so incredible or inspirational they must be shared. The blessing of imagination allows characters to share their personal histories with the writer who becomes the ghostwriter.

As a writer of historical fiction, my research requires discovering descriptions, timelines, and eye-witness accounts of real-life men, women, and children. Thankfully, names, ages, maps, photos, non-fiction books, and documents are a click away. Occasionally, I visit my local library.

However, most of this awesome information won’t be used in my character’s story. Some of the facts will give way to the fictional plot with history used as needed for believability. The fun is in blending the two, much like an abstract painting. I love adding flesh to the bones.

How do seasoned writers keep track of all the information gleaned?

Here are a few I’ve learned through the years. Share your methods in the comments below.

10 tips for researching, organizing, culling, and utilizing your character’s story

  1. Research begins by discovering who your characters are, what they will do, and where the story is set.
  2. Create a project folder on your computer. Add subfolders such as characters, settings, backstory, maps, calendars, resources used, and deleted scenes.
  3. Search online for needed technical, historical, or world building resources.
  4. Copy and paste needed information into a document with the website link and source credit for a later reference or to use in a blog post.
  5. Save documents in the appropriate subfolders in your project folder.
  6. Print documents if preferred but slide them into plastic sleeves. Keep them in large, white three-ring binders which have the clear plastic on the front and end that allows you to slide in a custom label. Add tabs between subjects as needed for quick reference.
  7. Use character development worksheets which include physical descriptions, personality types/disorders, fears, passions, greatest desire, and morals or lack of.
  8. Find or create worksheets to help brainstorm what is going to happen. What will force your characters out of their usual routines? Who or what is threatening to kill, steal, or destroy their greatest desire? What is at risk? Will they win?
  9. Write your story using only what you need from your research to create sensory and emotional scenes.
  10. Blend in bits and pieces of the main character’s past as needed but keep the story moving. Readers want to sympathize with your main character and experience thecurrent action of the story.

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