My Character Matrix

Matrix

One of the most helpful tools that I use when writing is my character matrix. Addicted to MS Excel spreadsheets, I found the logic of using this tool to ensure that I had characters that truly interacted with each other in a natural way.

To do this, I simply listed out the names of the primary characters across the top and then the same names along the left side. In each of the boxes of my matrix I list out how the person (or character) recorded in the top of that column feels about the person listed on the left of that row.

So, let’s say the grumpy old man, Sam, feels that the thin young boy, Tim, is unfit for combat duty. I type that in that specific cell of the matrix grid. Sam also feels there is no place in a war zone for females such as Maria, so I add that in the cell that intersects Sam & Maria. That said, Sam feels he is the best fighter available to carry out this mission and doesn’t need the other two. I would then add those comments in the cell that intersects Sam’s name on top and on the left.

There, I’ve now filled 3 cells of this matrix in the column for Sam, so let’s move on to Tim and Maria.
Starting with Tim’s column, he feels he must revenge his older brother’s death and no one will stop him from this. I’ve now added that to the cell where Tim matches up to Tim. In the cell where Maria is on the left, I add that Tim has a crush on Maria. Then in the last cell in the column, I type in that Sam reminds Tim a lot of the guy who tortured and killed his brother which causes uncontrolled emotions to boil up from within Tim.

Maria’s column shows that she is self-confident in war but hates bullies like Sam. She instinctively protects those being bullied such as Tim, even though she respects Sam much more that Tim.

Okay, this is a little simplistic of what I end up with, but you get the idea. Once I have these done, I keep them handy. In fact, I often pin this up on my wall while I write. It’s amazing how these characters start to have dialog without me. All I have to do is add a setting and a conflict and then they just take off without me. I struggle to keep up. It’s great fun!

So, let’s place these 3 in a back alley of some third world country city while preparing to rush into a bar to get the bad guy. Sam was given orders to capture him alive, while Tim wants him dead. Maria, on the other hand, is really there to determine where he hid the diamonds without the others finding out there is any treasure to be found. Okay, Now…Action!

Can you hear the conversation already starting? Who takes charge and starts giving orders? Sam? Yep. How will Tim take orders from this guy he doesn’t respect and who reminds him of the killer? How will Tim react when he isn’t given the opportunity to be the one to take out the guy who tortured his brother? How will Sam respond? How long before Sam pushes Tim out of the way and tells him to shut up? How will Maria react? Who will she support?

Reality is, you already know these answers, don’t you? Having this matrix really helps with this and it keeps your characters consistent throughout your story. Sure, they may learn to get along, but there will always be some tone in their voice or way they say things that will be consistent with their original views.

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