Writing Wednesdays: Should you make character profiles?

October 04, 2017
Character profiles can be a really useful tool - do you use them?

My last Writing Wednesdays post talked about the fact that it’s important to make notes when you’re working on a story; this week, I wanted to talk about character profiles.

For those of you confused by the term, I'm simply talking about a kind of fact-file on your characters. Even if, like me, you're terrible at plotting your story when you start out with a new idea, you should still be able to pull together a character profile. It's not intimidating, I promise.

A character profile can be as comprehensive as you like, and they can be really helpful when you’re starting out on a new story, to help you flesh out your characters – especially important if your story is very character-driven. They also make for great reference points throughout the story, and they're good for sparking inspiration if you hit a bit of a block with your story.

I’ve talked before about character development, writing relatable characters and about making notes on your characters, but this is something I want to drive home: it’s important to know your characters.

Start out simple. Jot down their name, their age, their key physical attributes. (Because trust me, someone will notice if your main character’s eyes change from blue to brown after chapter three, even if you miss it.)

Then start working on their personality traits. Maybe they’re stubborn, or impulsive. Maybe they’re conscientious and the mum of the group.

And fun tip, if you’re as much of a loser as I am: try sorting them with the Pottermore quiz. If you can work out what Hogwarts house they’re in, it’ll help you think about what kind of personality the character has and what drives them. (Slytherin? You know they’re ambitious. Gryffindor? Impulsive af.)

If you want to go that bit further, don’t just think about what they look and act like, or what their favourite TV show is. Consider some of these things to develop your character, to get you started:
  • What they're scared of
  • What they wanted to be growing up
  • Their favourite season
  • Who they admire/who their hero is
  • Their thoughts on religion
  • What they're good at versus what they like
  • Where they want to be in three/five years/whatever
  • What are they like when they get sick?
  • Do they use social media? Which ones? What kind of accounts do they follow?
  • If they were throwing a dinner party, what would they cook? (Getting delivery is an option.)

You don’t even have to use these things in your story. The point of creating a character profile isn’t so that you put everything you think up about your character into the story. It might not ever come up that they have a crippling fear of heights or that they really hate roses or that they never got into the Game of Thrones hype. But maybe they never got into that hype because they don’t like fantasy or they didn’t like reading at school or maybe it’s just that they don’t have the attention span to bother to remember who’s who. Coming up with all these little details might spark something about your character that you do use in the story.

Again: you can be as comprehensive with your character profile as you want. You can include anything and everything. Whatever you think might be useful and whatever you think might not be.

Character profiles are an extremely useful tool, and definitely worth knocking together for your main characters. They can be useful for any of the secondary characters in your novel too, but be careful not to get bogged down in trying to make them as detailed as possible for each and every one of your characters.

There are tons of free online Q&As or character questionnaires to help you out, if you need some more inspiration.

Do you use character profiles? If you've got some tips to share, add them in the comments!

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