One of the most important elements of writing fiction is the task of writing character profiles for the most important characters in your story. Character profiles can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be, as long as they help you develop and maintain the important characteristics of the people within your tale.
The Importance of Writing Character Profiles
While many authors enjoy the natural evolution of the characters within their stories without the constraints of a profile, for newer writers it can be extremely helpful to have the history, personality and even quirks of each character written down. By writing character profiles, a writer has a point of reference to return to in order to remember how the character would react in certain situations, or whether the character has a history that might influence their behavior.
What to Include in a Profile
When you are in the middle of writing a significant story, or especially if you are working on a novel, character profiles provide you with a "cheat sheet" so that you don't have to remember every personality detail and personal history of every person in your story. Whenever a person enters the storyline and their reaction or behavior in response to a situation becomes central to the plot, you can look back at their profile to determine what part of their personality or history should influence events in your story. The profile can also help spur new ideas regarding what direction the storyline should take, because sometimes a particular characteristic or personality flaw can significantly change the course of events.
A thorough profile should list everything about the person that's even remotely relevant to the story. Don't waste time creating an elaborate list for characters that are only ancillary to the plot. On the flip side, you should exert a fair amount of effort in coming up with a very thorough profile for your main characters. The details that you'll need to imagine for your character obviously will include basic details like name, age, appearance, occupation and where they live. However, some things that you should also carefully consider are things like their largest flaws and greatest qualities, the status of their health, whether they knowingly or unknowingly have any form of mental illness, what the character's long-term goals and dreams are, the emotional makeup and even the person's spiritual beliefs.
Bring Your "Bag of Bones" to Life
By "fleshing out" the details that make your character human, you'll breathe life into what would otherwise be nothing more than a name on the page. It's important to remember the words of British novelist Thomas Hardy when he said, "Compared to the dullest human being actually walking about on the face of the earth and casting his shadow there, the most brilliantly drawn character is nothing but a bag of bones" (A Guide to the Worlds of Stephen King, pg 124). This is the task that you must accomplish successfully as a storyteller, to evolve your character - your bag of bones - into a living, breathing, and interesting human being.
Now that you understand the basic requirements of a good character profile, the following is a short example of how you can structure your list of characteristics and qualities in a way that makes sense and is easy to reference as you're writing your story.
|Hometown||Albequerque, New Mexico|
|Job and Income||Army Clerk, middle-income|
|Marital Status||Divorced with 1 child|
|Height and Weight||5'6", 145 pounds|
|General Appearance||Caucasian, Bob-cut dirty blond hair, green eyes, pale skin|
|Clothes||"Earthy" and "hippy", long skirts and blouse always earth-tone|
|Mannerisms||Very laid back, but gets nervous facial tick when sensitive issues are discussed such as politics or religion|
|Health Conditions||Non-athletic, average build, underlying start of health issue because of unhealthy diet|
|Mental Health||No chemical imbalance, but underlying post-traumatic stress from childhood abuse|
|Hobbies||gardening and hiking, dabbles in watercolor paintings|
|Largest Personal Flaw||Uninterested in interpersonal relationships - a loner|
|Greatest Quality||Strong sense of morality and what's right and wrong|
|Short Term Goals||To become a manager where she works|
|Long Term Goals||Buy a ranch and move away from the city|
|Outgoing?||Very introverted except in her online life|
|Managing stress||Dives into her work to deal with stress in her personal life|
|Dealing with Anger||Rarely gets angry unless children are getting hurt|
|Dealing with money||Very frugal, borders on greedy but generous when it comes to charity|
|Spiritual Beliefs||Protestant Christian but doesn't attend church often (if at all)|
Keep in mind that by creating your character's personality and characteristics in this way, you're writing a portion of your story even before you've developed your storyline. By thinking carefully about your character's history, values and beliefs, you can generate intriguing ideas and plot twists that you otherwise may never have thought about if you'd only focused on letting the personality develop through the plot alone.
Try spending some time just focusing on one or two characters, either as part of or separate from any plot. Rely on your imagination to come up with unique or quirky qualities for your new character, and watch as your mind paints a fascinating and unexpected portrait of a realistic person for your story>.