Your characters are what help drive your story, without them, well … there wouldn’t be much there. A poor lonely cow in a field, maybe, but even that cow is a character. Am I right?
So how does an author keep track of all of their characters? How do they develop those characters so they don’t seem flat and boring?
It depends on the author.
Personally, I let the characters develop through the story. In a way, they tell me what they want to become as the story moves along. How events shape them and make them who and what they are. The same way a person in real life would develop. Although, in fiction we can perhaps have our characters react (or overreact) to events in ways some people might not react in reality.
That doesn’t mean I don’t keep track of them in anyway. I have lists, multiple ones at times, keeping track of all my characters for all of my novels.
I keep track of names, ages, features, physical and emotional quirks and a brief history. I also keep track of major events that occur in the book in case I need to refer back to something.
There are authors who plot out their major characters before they begin a book. Writing out not only physical details, but an entire historical biography as well in order to help them visualize their character.
It’s another case of, whatever works for an author. If keeping a detailed history either before, or after you begin writing works, then do it. If a brief overview works, then do that.
Ideally, having a photographic memory would work the best, but since not very many of us are so blessed, some sort of file to keep track of characters in some way is a good idea. It’s nice to have that character sheet to look back at if you need to check a detail, especially if those characters are reappearing over multiple books in a series.
Do you want to reopen that file for book one, try to find all the details for a character so you can figure out their age or an event that occurred, when you’re on book six? No, you probably don’t want to waste that kind of time. That would be where your character file would help. Even if you haven’t gone into in-depth detail, we can hope you’ve kept your important details to help you along the path to completing your book (or series).
Unless you’re writing a short story, I wouldn’t advise not keeping any sort of file at all (unless you have that fabulous photographic memory). Trust me they do help. So no matter what form they take, try it out and find what works best for you.