Writing Character Profiles

Writing Character Profiles

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.

Be Thorough

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.

A Sample Character Profile

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.

Sample Character Profile
Question Answer
Name Mary Johannesen
Age 39
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
Unique Qualities
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
Emotional Makeup
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.

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Writing Character Profiles