Character Grid

For those of you who haven’t been to the drama box in a few days, I’m taking the opportunity of NaNoWriMo and me just starting rough draft to detail out my plotting process.  Disclaimer:everyone writes differently, there’s no wrong way to do it.  This is what I’ve come up with over the last ten years or so, and what works for me.  It’s a process that’s still evolving.  Oh, and my word count is still zero.

Yesterday I rewrote my plot to take out the demon plotline and expand two others of crime and love.  It made a much more tidy story and I was able to dig deeper into the relationships instead of skimming over them.  My one page synopsis turned into a 13 page synopsis, casually broken into maybe-chapters.  Today I’m going to begin to break this up into clear chapters so I can better balance the entire work as to pacing, place, and characters.  I don’t want to spend too much time in the church, or be moving from place to place in any given chapter.  My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters.  Same thing with characters.  Variety keeps the reader interested and the story moving.  So to better see the patterns that the story is taking and head off any potential problems, I have come up with a character grid.  It’s about the only piece of “software” that I use, and it’s just an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve modified to my needs.  Here’s the one I used for ODW.

Characters are down the side, the locations of the scene are on the top, and the action is at the bottom.  (this is an early version, so it might not dovetail perfectly into the published book) The color shift is an indication of a change in day (which can be seen by the dates) and the chapter numbers are under that.  The Xs are when a character is an a chapter, and sometimes I use an O to indicate that they are in the chapter by way of phone or scrying mirror.  I usually have the month and day the book takes place in across the top, and the sunrise and set and average temps at the bottom, but I recently had a software upgrade, and I lost my headers and footers in Excel.  (sucks big time)

My character grid is how I first realized that Jenks was in almost every chapter in the earlier books, and I’ve become better at getting him out so other characters can shine.  It’s also how I know if I have a character who is needed for a crucial scene, and yet is not introduced anywhere until that scene.  Very bad.  Same thing with the bad guys.  I try to have them show up early, and then at least one more time before the end.  Another rule of thumb is don’t introduce too many characters in the same scene, even if they are returning characters.  I like to have only two at the most, and will break a chapter just to avoid this.

A character grid of some sort is also a great way to make sure that your male to female ratio isn’t wildly out of balance.  Mine usually slant to the male end of the ratio, but since Rachel is female it works out.  Oh, and when you go to rewrite and need to add something that revolves around a character, it’s really easy to go the grid, see where they are, and place your clue instead of spending an hour thumbing through the file and guessing where to put it is.

Tomorrow, after I break this monster into chapters, I’ll let you know what balance issues I encountered and nipped in the bud, but for now, I’ve not a clue as to what problems the manuscript has.  I can’t wait!

P.S. I think the puppies caught something at the borders last week and I’ll be taking them in this afternoon.  They are coughing and wheezing when they get up to do anything.  If they were big dogs, I wouldn’t worry so much, but Aleix is only six pounds.  I’ll let you know.



Filed under Drama Box

71 responses to “Character Grid

  1. Pingback: Free Tool: Character Grid for Pulp stories – The Craft of Words

  2. Pingback: On Blogging | AJ Salem

  3. CMS

    Hey Kim, i just wanted to let you know that this chart is awsome. I have been using this for about three days and it has really improved my organization for my writing. Hope you hare having a great week.

  4. Tammie

    PS. Please keep Jenks in vitually every (if not every) chapter! He’s my very favorite character! He brings so much to your books! His humor is the best; but he brings so much more, also. Having him be spelled into human size was genius! Anyway, keep lots of Jenks & please, oh, please figure out a way for him not to die of old age, uh, ever. *grin*

    • Hi, Tammie. Boy, to I know where you’re coming from. Believe me, I’m working on keeping Jenks alive, but it will be up to him when all is said and done. sigh.

  5. Tammie

    I am a huge fan of yours! I discovered your work I think just before WWBC came out. Yet somehow, my ditzy self missed a book (ODW). the only thing I can think is I saw “Demon” in the title & thought I’d already read that one because I’d read FAFDM. When I was reading WWBC, a few things seemed a bit “off” but it was still good! Duh!!! I’m reading ODW now & things are coming together nicely & it was mice to have an unexpected book waiting on me. My point to this novel post is, your book was still a good read & I think it would be even to someone who hadn’t read the series which has to be so hard to do!! You are a very talented author! Love your chart! Great idea.

  6. The character grid’s a brilliant idea. I think my male-female ratio is always a problem. I like the idea of where the chapters are (location wise) and who;s there and who is’t. Once can almost expand on that and make little notes to remember how teh characters will feel about each other at that given time. (ie – last scene ivy almost killed glen, next time they’re together it’s going to be a little bit tense… something like that, lol).
    Thank you for sharing this, I enjoy reading the process and I really appreciate the gesture.
    On the dogs – (animal scientist talking here now…) it could also be the change of season that’s causing it. It’s autumn there now right?
    Could be allergies, but then they’d have itchy skins…

    NanoWriMo status: Alyss sighs and shakes a mere 15771 words out onto the table. Among them lies ‘deflated’. Didn’t get to write much yesterday. Mum was in a car accident.

    • Alyssa! I hope your mother is not banged up too badly. Good vibes headed your way.

      I’m glad you’re finding something useful in the character grid. Yes! modify it to what you need. That’s the beautiful thing about it. Adaptable!

      I kind of wondered about the seasons, too, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.


  7. Alan Garza

    Thank you so much Kim! I’m going to give this a try. Your character grid is so much easier than my own method and I love the way you can see everything at a glance. I hope the puppies get to feeling better.

  8. Joy

    I hope the puppers are ok!! It is so hard to see those little ones sick. It always breaks my heart when my little girl looks to me for help but cannot tell me exactly what is wrong. I wish you all the luck with them!! And thanks for a detailed look into the mind of Kim Harrison, Author Extraordinaire!! It has bee quite interesting.

    • Hi, Joy.

      The puppies seem to be okay. I didn’t wait too long before taking them in. Just enough to know that it wasn’t going away. I don’t mind being the overreactive, flaky artist bringing her dog in for a sniffle.

      And I’m glad you’re enjoying the look at my creative process! Thanks!

    • mudepoz

      Actually, I think you’re a dog person. I know the type, intimately. There are nearly 1000 on my genetics list. Which has also become a general and breed specific health list.

      Unless we’re all flaky artists. Nope. I definitely am not.

  9. Phil

    I just gift wrapped the perfect Christmas present for my teenage cousin … Once Dead Twice Shy… 🙂

  10. Tom Gallier

    Man, you are so much better with Excel that I am. I have no idea how you got those top and bottom lines to go veritcal. I’m an idgit. LOL But it looks very cool and helpful. Way to go.

    • Tom Gallier

      Ok, I just know you are really stressing out trying to figure out how to give detailed instructions on how to make one of your spread sheets (yeah, I do dream in technicolor, why do you ask?) but you can relax. You inspired me to play with Excel a bit, and figured it out pretty quick. I will make my own spread sheet and test it out. Thanks for the inspiration and help.


    • Yay! I’m glad you figured it out. If I can do it, I know you can. (grin)

    • Hi, Tom. Dude, I suck at Excel. (grin) I just messed around with it until I found what button to push. I’m actually using it in landscape mode on the printer, which changes everything around without changing anything.

  11. Hugs & kisses for the puppies. Hope they are better soon.

    And thanks for sharing your character grid. Its pretty awesome.

  12. Tiffany

    Aww, hope your puppies are OK. I’m reading your post from the vet’s waiting room actually – I think my cat has pancreatitis :(.
    The character grid looks like a perfect way to index everything and to see your scene outline and planned character activity at a glance (did I read that right that you use this as a pre-writing tool, rather than something you fill in as you write?). Thanks again for doing this Kim.

    • Hi, Tiffany. Thank you, the puppies are doing much better today. I think. . . That’s awful about your cat. I hope she has something easier to take care of and is back to normal soon.

      You asked about the character grid. I used to use it as a post-rough draft tool, but I’ve been using it more and more as a tool when I outline and plot. I think it’s just a natural progression.

  13. A.N.

    Awww, Ms. Kim, I hope the puppies feel good soon. Give them a belly rub for me.

  14. Kim, thanks for sharing your genius with us. 😉 I’m taking notes. 😀

    Hope your pups get better soon. 😀

  15. Thanks for all your encouraging words about plotting my rewrite of my nanowrimo novel! I really appreciate it, and love that you take the time to respond to all of my comments on your blog 🙂 I love your character grid, but it seems so complex! It boggles my mind!

    p.s. would love some pictures of the puppies 🙂

    • Hi, Candace. It’s been my pleasure, and I hope you find something in my words that helps your own work. Don’t let the character grid throw you. It all starts slow and builds on itself.

      I might have some pics of the puppies next week.

  16. Gothar

    Poor puppies *sniff*

    Your excel shouldn’t be broken.

    • Hi, Gothar.

      It’s not so much as broken as I have to toggle back and forth between old and new versions to see what I want until I add my headers and footers back in.

      Puppies are doing okay today, but I’ll feel better after they get a few days of meds in them. 😉

  17. Lurker

    That is actually pretty cool. Do you know if most writers do this type of thing (in some fashion), or you don’t care that’s just the way it works for you?

    /Agree with muddy, take em to a vet now. My sister is also having dog drama at the moment. 😦

    Also: WTB more ‘X’s for the Ivy row 🙂

    • Hi, Lurker.
      Thanks! I think it’s pretty cool, too, and every year, I find myself using it more and more. I have no idea if other writers use anything like this. I saw a need, and I worked to fill it.

      Dogs have been to the vet and we came home with pills. Yay. 😉

      More X’s in Ivy’s row!!? (grin)

  18. Kneosha

    Awww poor puppies. It sounds like they may have kennel cough. Its treatable but being in a boarding kennel could definitely cause them to get it. Oh and if they get pill meds, wrapping a piece of bread around it works the best because it actually sticks to the pill. I like your character grid! Take care and hope the pups get better soon!

    • Hi, Kneosha. Kennel cough was one of the first questions, but since they had been immunized, we moved on to general viral infection. (sigh)

      Hey, I tried the bread thing, and it worked with Xander, who gobbled it down, but Aleix daintily hawcked it up and picked the bread off it and left the pill. Nice one, Aleix. So I had to jam it down her throat with a finger. Good thing I had experence. I guess . . .

    • mudepoz

      Squeeze cheese. I have to dose my dogs all the time with various odds and ends (long ago I had a springer with canine aids…talk about zebra’s) Most dogs will lap it up and ignore the pill. It was how I knew Charm was saying goodbye.

  19. April

    Hi there, hope the puppies are getting better and I hope this doesn’t tire you out, too much. I am doing nanowrimo for the first time this year. It is going great and I am having a great time. Thanks for the insight to your writing process. I think at the end of the month, my novel is going to be more of a wordy outline, than a first draft. I’m thinking of using ywriter by Simon Haynes to clean it up. It has something similar to your character grid, thankfully, so I don’t have to spend time on wishfully thinking you would post your template. I hope you have an uneventful evening.

    • Hi, April.

      That’s very cool that you’re doing the NaNoWriMo this year. Congrats! I hope you reach your goal. Having fun is important, too.

      I wouldn’t mind posting the template, but I honestly don’t know how to do it. Sorry. I’m glad you’re getting some use out of what I’ve got there.

      Puppies are feeling better, I think. Thank you. It’s hard to tell sometimes.


  20. Kylie Ru

    “Bis” wasn’t his original name?

    Oh, can you send Jenks to Romania? Someone conned me and stole $2,000 out of my bank account. I want him pixed.

    And I hope your puppies are okay! (hugs)

    • Hi, Kylie. Nope. His first name was Dan. Simple and straightforward. I changed it to Bis because I wanted all gargoyles to have musical names.

      Ouch, sorry about the con.

      Puppies are doing okay, thanks!

  21. Christina

    Kim, I am totally devastated that I was on Richard Curtis’s website and it said that he is no longer taking submissions on writers who have not been majorly published. I am crushed. I was going to put all of my eggs in one basket and just send it to him, because I KNEW that he is going to love what I am writing. I feel a little lost because of this. I need a little advise as to what to do next. I don’t want my manuscript to go to anyone else, because I don’t think that they would appreciate it as much. If you think of someone else that is at least comparable to Richard Curtis please let me know. I am not going to cry, but this knot in my throat won’t go away.
    -Christina Orlando, FL

    • Hi, Christina.

      I know! I know!! I just squeeaked in the door when he changed his policy back in 2000. I don’t know who to suggest. I don’t want to reccommend anyone and then find out that it’s not a good fit. I’m so sorry!

      You might have to do some more research or start going to writer conferences where you can meet agents face to face. Writer’s Digest puts out a great referance book on agents and editors every year. That would be where I would start. Good luck! It’s not easy.

  22. Kim, that is exactly how that canine flu starts. I hope they’re at the vets now. And it doesn’t matter how big the dog. The flu only has a 2 % mortality rate but that is more than I want to deal with.

    • Hi, Mud. Pups have been and are back home resting. I asked about the flu when I took them in over Halloween, (had to leave for a few days) and the canine flu isn’t in this area yet, but it would be just like my dogs to be the first patients with it. (laugh) Zebras. I’m always looking for zebras when I hear hoof beats, never horses.

  23. Dawn

    Hi again Kim,
    Good thoughts going out for you and the pups. Poor things. I know I like my pets better than some people, so I hate when they are feeling bad. I hope they are well very soon.

    And thank you again for taking your time to spread your processes with us! It’s truly priceless. Not everyone would do this and it’s really nice to know that behind the books that I so enjoy and admire, there is an extremely cool person.

    Hope the rest of your day goes well!

    • Thank you, Dawn. The pups seem to be resting comfortably today, but they still sound a little congested. The meds should be kicking in soon.

      And it is my pleasure to share my writing techniques with you. I’ll be honest that it’s really taken a chunk out of my day to do so, as it’s not an easy thing to explain (as evidenced by the paragraphs I’ve been posting this and last week) but it is worth it knowing that some of you will really appreciate it and perhaps find something useful there.


  24. Chele

    First off, hope your babies are ok. Secondly love the way you are showing us your way of laying out a story. I find it fascinating. Thanks!!!


    • Hi, Chele.

      The pups are doing okay, but I’ll feel better once the symptoms ease off a little more. Thank you.

      And it is my pleasure sharing my plotting techniques with you!

  25. Sasrah

    How can you view the grid bigger (it’s too small on my computer screen to read)?


  26. Meg

    Hi, Kim! Well… they finally got DAWNBREAKER in my bookstore… six weeks after I ordered it. Ugh. They also decided to get it in the same day I gave up hope and spent the DAWNBREAKER funds on a different book, and didn’t tell me until after I’d bought it. I know I should be mad, but I think I’m all raged out after the past few weeks. Back to saving, I guess…

    I was going to do NaNoWriMo this year, since I’ve been putting it off, but I have to prepare for exams for the next two weeks, which would really effect how much I could write. So I’m going to do it next month instead! Hey, at least I’m not totally missing out on it 😀 Thanks! ~ Meg VV

  27. Deanna Moretz

    Kim, you rock. Thanks so much for posting this.

    I’ve been keeping track of everything through long word docs and struggling to find a good way to organize my story’s elements at-a-glance but the farther I get into character development and the plot points of my outline the harder it is to keep it all coherent. After seeing this, I’m pretty sure it’s perfectly adaptable to my needs.

    I can envision a grid for character physical characteristics; personality traits, quirks, good & bad habits; story arc…it’s so perfect, yet so simple.

    Honestly, I can’t thank you enough.

    • Thanks, Deanna! I’m glad you’re going to get some use out of it. I find it’s invaluable to see the entire novel at a glance, and I’d be interested to see how you adapt it to your needs. (big huge smile)

  28. Phil

    Hi Kim, that’s awful about the pups! I hope they get better real soon! Bailey just had her check-up and is doing great. A friend’s puppy had symptoms like your pups have but recovered quickly with medication 🙂 so hope yours recover just as fast!

    Thanks for sharing your writing techniques. I have an even deeper appreciation of your work when I consider how extraordinarily difficult it is to create a novel and even moreso a series! It really takes a special talent to do that, which is what you certainly have … and are! 🙂

    • Hi, Phil. The pups are doing okay today, but I’ll feel better after they’ve been on the meds a day or two.

      And thank you! I’m glad you appreciate the work that goes into one of these books. It’s not just sitting down and writing what comes to you. It’s work! (And I love it)

  29. jason in fl

    Kim you have saved me with this character grid. I love it. What a great way to see the entire novel.

  30. SeattleRobin

    Hope the dogs are okay!

    Very cool for you to post a pic of your character grid. I can see how that would help a HUGE amount.

    I also just wanted to take the opportunity to say how really thrilled I was to find out that you have a “just and really” problem. They’re really just such great words and can be used in so many different ways. It’s just really hard to avoid. (When I post on forums I have to go through and edit for too many justs before posting and in my NaNo work-in-progress I have attempted to prohibit myself from using it! Heh.)

  31. Hi Kim,
    First off, I love the character grid! It’s awesome to see how organized you are. It makes a lot of sense to me to keep something like this to see how your characters are interacting in the different chapters.

    Second, do your puppies have the Bordatella shot? I’m so sorry to hear that your puppies are ill. I just nearly lost my dog, and we still aren’t sure what’s wrong with her, she may have Addison’s disease.

    • Hi, Phyrra. Thanks! I’m glad you appreciate the glimpse into my outling process.

      Yes, since I kennel my pups often, they are compleatly immunized. That was the vet’s first question. 😉 I hope your dog is back to normal soon.


  32. Frotee

    Hi Kim 🙂
    Wow, this looks really handy. Might be useful to make something like this with topics and cited authors for my diploma…

    And I really hope your pups get better soon! It’s awful when your dog’s obviously not feeling well but you can’t really say what it is, what caused it or how serious it is. I usually give it a few days before I take my dog to the vet – but she’s a a mongrel and pretty tough, so she’s usually better by then. (It’s really cute, watching her with the neighbouring Chihuahuas – you can see how she has no idea what to do with them, being two to three times their size.)

  33. Judi in NJ

    Oh!!! Kiss the pups! The poor babes…hope all is well and they are up and yipping without the couging soon!! I have to say that the insight into your writing and organizational processes is fascinating! I actually printed out the grid so I could really check it out…it’s too cool! BTW..I’ve started the Truth series…had it & the Princess series on my shelf since the “news” broke :). I’m really digging it so far! Rod re-united with an old friend recently who loves reading and is looking for something new. He will be receiving the entire Hollows series for Christmas. Woot! Please send a “What’s up?” to “Guy” and smooches to the pooches!

    • Thank you, Judi, The puppies are getting better.

      I’m so glad you are appreciating this glimpse into my writing process! It’s kind of tedious to explain, but I figured it was time.

      And very cool yu’re reading the Truth books! Thanks!


  34. Indy

    Hi Kim!!! I hope the pups feel better soon. Gabby had a case of kennel cough once, and it was terrible. Trying to give a pup Robitussen is not fun. They hate it just as much as adults.~Indy

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