How Helpful Are Character Sketches (And What Did Elizabeth Peters Do?)

Well hello! If you’re new to Vocabbett, I help students improve their vocabulary through stories.

Because of that, I tend to do a lot of writing. At the moment, I’m taking you behind the scenes as I write the sequel to Ahead of Her Time!

Today we’re talking about character sketches, and I’m continuing to draw on the creative process of Barbara Mertz (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters) for inspiration.

Here’s what I found while researching her process: She did use character sketches early in her career, but stopped by 1992(ish). As she explained in her winter 1992-1993 newsletter:

“I have to see my people in action before I know what they’re like.”

-Barbara Mertz a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that by 1992, Mertz had largely moved away from standalone books, focusing primarily on the Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody series for the rest of her career.

It makes sense, to me at least, that you wouldn’t need to do character sketches on characters you already know!

There is a flip side to this. While she may not have done character sketches for her later books, I did find quite a few post-book character notes. It seems as though she went through her books after writing them, collating details for consistency.

You can read one of my favorite, about characters in the Vicky Bliss books, below!

Notes by Barbara Mertz; Photo taken by Erica Abbett at the Lilly Library in Indiana

To recap:

Character sketches can be helpful, but it seems like they’re more helpful with standalone books or the first book in a series.

On the flip side, if you’re writing a series, post-book character sketches may be helpful in keeping everything consistent!

Get more information in episode 52 of the Vocabbett podcast! I’ve included it at the top of this post, and you can also listen on your favorite podcast player.

Cover Art: Art Vechnaya/Modified from Etsy