Have you created character profiles for the main cast of your novel?
While not all authors use character profiles, many find them a very handy tool for keeping track of their characters – and for developing and fleshing out those characters in the first place.
Done well, a character profile can help you harness your creativity and really dig into who your characters are.
Sometimes, though, writers treat character profiles as a form-filling exercise, coming up with their character’s eye color, hair color, first job, etc without investing any of this with a deeper meaning.
They might diligently complete character profiles for every character in their novel – even the bus driver who only has a walk-on part in chapter five – but they’re not any closer to having any real insight into their characters.
So what should go in your character profile … and how should you use it?
What to Include in a Character Profile
Firstly, not every character in your novel needs a profile at all.
Characters who have a minor role (like your protagonist’s mother, who only appears briefly a couple of times) don’t need to be fully fleshed out. Of course, you might want to make some brief notes about them … but this definitely doesn’t need to be an entire profile.
Your main characters, though, should have individual profiles. That probably includes any viewpoint character. If you have an antagonist then it’s worth creating a profile for them too (after all, even if your main character just doesn’t “get” where the antagonist is coming from, you should).
It’s entirely up to you how you structure your character profiles. In general, though, I’d suggest that:
You don’t focus too much on physical details. You may want to include things like hair color and eye color if you’re ever likely to mention them – but you can leave them out if they’re not going to be relevant. The same goes for height and build: unless they’re unusual and significant, you don’t necessarily need them at all.
If you are including physical details, think about how they relate to deeper aspects of your character. For instance, in Harry Potter, the fact that Harry has green eyes is significant because it’s the physical characteristic that links him to his mother.
You spend some time exploring deeper questions about your character: things like “what’s the mistake they regret most?” or “in what situations would they lie?” or “what false beliefs do they hold?” These sort of questions will result in a much richer, more real character than a simple list of physical characteristics.
The first ebook I ever bought online, back in around 2007, was Holly Lisle’s Create a Character Clinic. This is still one of my favorite resources for character creation: it goes far beyond the typical “character questionnaire” to dig deep into what really makes characters tick (and it includes lots of examples, too).
If you’re using a template or questionnaire that you’ve found online, don’t feel that you need to complete every single part of it – especially if it’s a long one! Focus on the bits that are most impactful or that help you to imagine your character more fully: if you do decide to fill in the rest, you can simply do it at a later stage.
Don’t get hung up on creating the “perfect” character profile before you begin writing – because it’ll almost certainly change as you go along.
Which brings me on to…
Why Your Character Profile Will Need Updating Regularly
If you create your character profiles during the pre-writing phase of your novel, you’ll almost certainly find that your understanding of your character shifts as you write the first draft.
Perhaps the thing you thought they sincerely regretted from their past turns out to be something they’re actually quite proud of – at least initially.
Perhaps you realize that it makes much more sense for them to have grown up somewhere rural, not in a city.
Perhaps you change them radically: maybe you merge two characters together, or you change a character’s gender or age. (Or their name: a lot of my characters end up changing names part-way through the writing process as I figure out a name that’s a better “fit”.)
Your character profile definitely isn’t set in stone. It’s fine to change your mind and rework it – but do make sure that you actually update it to reflect the changes you’ve made during the writing process.
Otherwise, it can be very confusing several chapters later when you want to bring a character back in but you can’t now remember if they’re supposed to be 35 or 25, or whether they’re tall with dark brown hair or short with strawberry blonde hair.
Character profiles can be a great tool for creating and fleshing out interesting characters for your novel; they’re also a useful working document that you can use to help you stay on track and keep things consistent during the writing process.
If you’ve never created a character profile before, why not give it a go today?