I love to write, but I find it especially difficult to create compelling characters. That's why I decided to create a template for myself that would make the process easier all in Notion. This is what I came up with: the Ultimate Character Builder.
In this article, I'll show you my process and the logic I used to build this character building model and Notion template.
What is Notion?
If you’ve never heard about Notion, it’s a growing platform for businesses and individuals to organize data, build productivity systems, and create customizable wikis. A lot of people like me use it for creating what’s called their “second brain”.
Notion is the app that I use to organize pretty much everything in my life. So obviously, I wanted to use Notion to create a template for building characters.
Deconstructing an already existing complex character
The best way to see how a car works is to dismantle it and put it back together, right?
The TV show, Breaking Bad, is one of my favorite shows of all time and is a show I can re-watch over and over. One of the reasons that compel me to watch the show so many times is because of the main character, Walter White.
Walter White, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting and complex characters ever put on the screen. Even though he does some horrible things in the events of the show, we still root for him. Why? We should hate him and want him to lose, but every time he gets into trouble we hope he gets out of it somehow? How does that make sense?
We learn a lot about Walter's personality, his backstory, and his values throughout the show. We know what he cares about, how he was hurt in the past, and what he is and is not willing to do to achieve his goals. We root for him because we understand him.
So in order to understand how a complex and interesting character can be created, I deconstructed the most complex and interesting character I know.
I broke down Walter White's character into nine aspects. These nine aspects are what I determined are needed to build a realistic and compelling character:
- Character Archetype (optional)
- Enneagram Personality
- Positive Traits (Strengths)
- Negative Traits (Flaws/Weaknesses)
Below you can see a visualization I created to help me understand Walter White's character and how these aspects feed into each other:
Developing a character building methodology
The process in my template follows a methodology that I built myself and the order of operations is what I thought made the most sense. I believe when creating a compelling character it’s good to build the base, make them super interesting, then make their interesting characteristics believable and consistent:
Building the base of the character
- Enneagram Personality
Making the character as interesting as possible
- Positive Traits (Strengths)
- Negative Traits (Weaknesses)
Making the character believable and consistent
Character attribute databases
I wanted to create a template that can be used for not just one character but a whole list of characters that I would need in a story. That would mean creating a database in Notion so that characters had their own individual pages while still being organized and sorted.
I also wanted to create databases that housed information for the different aspects needed to build a character. For instance, personality enneagrams have different descriptions, categories, and other information that would be beneficial to keep organized and handy in an enneagram database. So I created seven attribute databases and filled them up with as many attribute examples as I could find in my research:
- 88 Character Archetypes
- 9 Character Enneagrams
- 57 Values
- 69 Needs
- 99 Positive Traits
- 106 Negative Traits
- 81 Emotions
Character attribute relations
By having my character list in its own database as well, I could connect these seven attribute databases to the character database through the power of Notion's relation properties. This makes it easy to select attributes from pre-made lists and keep track of what characters have what attributes with connected databases.
Another cool thing I figured out was to tie the 81 different emotions in the emotions database to relevant positive and negative traits in those databases through relations as well. By doing this I could create a rollup property in the character database that would automatically rollup what emotions a character is likely to experience with the character traits they have selected.
Having a methodology of nine aspects for building a character and seven different databases of character attributes to choose from for each character I wanted to build, I needed to create a step-by-step process that could make this whole system more straightforward.
I built a 9-step guide that would build the nine aspects of the character. This guide would populate every time I created a new character in the character database. Each step has notes, instructions, and things to think about when working on the said step.
Those steps that pulled from the different attribute databases (enneagrams, archetypes, traits, etc.) would populate a table view of the said database and to the right of that–a blank list that was filtered to only show said character's attributes. Having this makes it super easy and intuitive to pick out what attributes I want for a character and simply drag and drop an attribute from the left database view to the one on the right.
Each step of the guide builds off of the steps before it so I can see what aspects I've already established for the character and how to build cohesive aspects in later steps.
To really get deep into a character's life and personality, I scoured through hundreds of character development questions and picked the ones I thought were the most compelling. I compiled 175 character development questions and have them populate every time I create a new character in the character database.
These character questions are grouped together by relevant aspects of a character's life and personality. They are sprinkled throughout the 9-step guide and character profile as well as placed all together at the bottom of the character template.
Below the 9-step guide is a character profile template that I can fill out with other information about the character like physical appearance, family, etc.
And below that, I have populated all the information built from the guide about their personality, wants, needs, values, positive traits, and negative traits.
The reason I have the nine aspects displayed again below the 9-step guide is so that I can delete the guide when I'm done with it for the character. That way I can keep the information built from the guide without having to have that whole section on the page anymore.
A backstory section is populated below the character profile. To help me build the character's backstory, I have a synced block of the character's ghost/wound that I established from the 9-step guide.
Also are some character development questions from the questionnaire to help build some depth to the backstory.
I can then write a synopsis of the character's backstory below that.
Got to make a Notion template aesthetically pleasing.
I can view my character list in gallery view which populates the first image of the page as the cover. I try to find or create an image of the character to use for this.
I love color coding. All nine aspects of the character building process are designated with a specific color for consistency and it makes it easier for me to correlate information.
The benefits of my Notion template
Having everything in a pre-made template that is created every time I create a new character in my character database makes things a lot faster when developing characters.
The step-by-step guide really makes it easy for me to build the character's base personality, make them interesting, then make them realistic without having to think about what to do next. This saves me time and mental energy.
Consistency and connectivity
Keeping this character building process in a template within a database keeps my growing list of characters consistent with one another.
I am able to see through these different databases what characters have what traits, values, enneagrams, emotions, and archetypes so I can see if some characters have too many of the same attributes or what combinations of characters can have some interesting interactions.
Fluidity and intuitiveness
Having the drag-and-drop functionality to pull character attributes from a list and into my character's list of attributes makes it an easy process. I'm not having to search and type out attributes while I'm going through the guide–Notion's capabilities make an intuitive process while taking out a lot of extra work.
In all honesty, the number of attributes to choose from and character development questions to answer really helps me to think about all aspects of my characters and create characters that are real, three-dimensional people. I'm able to know everything I could possibly know about these characters and thus know exactly what they would or would not do in a situation.
Easy to customize and improve
Because my template is built in Notion and not housed in some other restricted system, I can restructure the template if I ever want to. I can also add more character attributes and build my databases if I find more in my research. Notion makes it possible for someone else to take this base template and build off of it.
StoryFlint's Ultimate Character Builder Template
Everything I've mentioned in this article is in StoryFlint's Ultimate Character Builder Notion template. All built and ready to go for writers to start building fully developed characters all in Notion.
This template will help you develop your character through a 9-step guide, hundreds of attributes to choose from, and a comprehensive questionnaire.
Stop struggling with developing your characters on your own. The Ultimate Character Builder will give you everything you need to turn character ideas into amazing characters that are realistic and inspiring.
Get the Ultimate Character Builder now to start building amazing characters right away!
StoryFlint's Ultimate Character Builder Notion template
The Ultimate Character Builder is a Notion template that you can easily create a well-rounded character that is believable and interesting. Stop struggling with developing your characters on your own. The Ultimate Character Builder will give you everything you need to create amazing characters that are realistic and inspiring.
What you'll be able to do with the Ultimate Character Builder:
- Bring characters to life in a way that feels real and authentic to your audience.
- Organize the things that make all your characters unique.
- Uncover hidden aspects of your character you never thought of before.
What's included in this template:
- A comprehensive 9-step Character Building Guide.
- A new Character Profile template.
- A robust Character Questionnaire containing 175 character development questions.
- 7 new powerful databases containing hundreds of character attributes to choose from.
Know everything about your characters with the Ultimate Character Builder!