10 by 10 Character Grid

Today I’m going to share another technique that I learnt from one of these writer self-help books (again the The Creative Writers’ Workshop by Cathy Birch for those interested) that I’ve adapted to my use and found extremely useful in terms of filling out characters. This time, the procedure is really simple: you use a 10 by 10 grid to brainstorm 100 facts about your character on 10 different areas. The original example shown was related to Red Riding Hood and contained information about her in the following areas: 1) Physical appearance; 2) Relationships; 3) Colour; 4) Music; 5) Talents; 6) Flaws; 7) Moods; 8) Past times and 2 others that I cannot remember but are likely to be other innocuous aspects. After all, the actual book suggested using this exercise as a pure brainstorming exercise. If anything odd comes out, it would have little impact on the actual characterisation while the occasional oddities might even bring out surprises when it comes to plotting.

I applaud this simple idea but I found almost half of the categories too innocuous and of little use in characterisation for me as a genre writer in fantasy. So I adapted them such that my 10 categories are: 1) Physical appearance; 2) Relationships; 3) Talents; 4) Flaws; 5) Past times; 6) Moods; 7) Values, fears and secrets; 8) Memories; 9) Reactions; 10) Mannerisms, quirks and little habits. I found that after my adaption, this brainstorming exercise involved substantially more meditation than its original form which I felt could be completed in one session uninterrupted. My revised form, however, sometimes required me to complete it over 2 days, especially for all of my main characters. A somewhat unfortunate side effect is that I could not find it in myself to complete the full grid for all of the characters in my book and I’ve found it through the hard way that some of the minor cast became quite hard to write when it came their turn to appear in the story.

Still, I feel lucky that I stumbled upon this approach. Previously, I was using a character profile approach where you basically complete a questionnaire about each character and it was just a dreadful experience. I was never a form-filling person but I can be matter-of-fact about that when required. However, this character profile thing just got on my nerves in some inexplicable way. But to each his own, I say. At the conclusion of this post, I would like to emphasise that what I wrote in my posts are purely personal insights into what worked and not worked for myself and should not be taken as broad-stroke advice on writing craft in any way. Thanks for reading.

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