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Creating Characters with a Character Profile

There are as many ways to create character profiles are there are ways to fail at untying a Gordian knot. So, I’ll be Alexander the Great and just slice the thing in half.

Right, how am I doing suggesting you use a character profile?

By telling you to find your own style. I have changed a lot of how I outlined my stories since I wrote under the name Francis Leigh. But the thing that stayed the same is the elements you need to think about. One of which is a way to keep track of your characters.

There is the basic information you need to remember, of cause, and the story-specific elements you want to keep track of, and other pieces you might need. What story doesn’t have this?

But these will vary depending on genre, your own style, and the story itself.

Have I confused you yet?

Excellent, let’s begin.

The Four Main Things to Know About Your Character

I found a thing on Tumbr (where I can no longer find the link to) which made sense to me. They were the four most important things to know about any of your characters before you start writing them. It’s kind of like a mini-profile.

  1. Their role,
  2. Their name,
  3. A specific trait about them that also explains something about their personality,
  4. And what House they would have been Sorted into at Hogwarts.

Let me explain.

Artist and Easel

Every character has a purpose in the story, even if it’s as simple as being the hero’s mother explaining something or as complex as a contagonist. That’s their purpose for existing, the reason they’re in the story in the first place.

Names can tell you a lot about a person and the type of story they’re in. James Bond is the sort of name an action hero would have because it’s snappy. The name Sirius comes from a star of the constellation Canis Major, it’s the brightest star in the sky and is known as the Dog Star. My name, George, means “farmer”, it comes from two Greek words to mean worker of the earth. It’s funny because I burn like a crisp under a hot sun and have an aversion to physical labour.

Some people look into what you name means and how it applies to your character, some don’t. Fantasy and sci-fi stories tend to have more syllables to their names than action thrillers or crime dramas.

Your shoes can tell you a lot about the person who wears them. Are the soles worn, or are the shoes so shiny they must be new? I personally have an indent in the index finger of my left hand exactly where one would hold a pen when writing. Or perhaps someone’s fingers are stained with paint or ink. Maybe their long hair is held up in a bun by a pencil.

Hogwarts Houses can tell you how your character reacts to things, where their priorities lie. I made a little thing:

  • Gryffindor: Brave, daring, chivalrous, willful, has nerve. Has a moral intuition they trust and a need to live by them.
  • Ravenclaw: Intelligent, curiosity, knowledgeable, witty, creative. Has a system they use to test their decisions against before acting.
  • Hufflepuff: Trustworthy, loyal, fair, hard work, patient. Decides by prioritising the vulnerable of the group.
  • Slytherin: Ambitious, cunning, resourceful, leadership, has self-preservation. Their moral core is in protecting and caring for their closest friends.
Keeping track of details is hard, and a few plot-relevant details could be what you need to ensure your characters are never two-dimensional again. Click To Tweet

Other Information You Might Wish to Add to Your Character Profile

The sort of information you want to remember might vary depending on the type of story you wish to tell. Or which pieces you want to remember.

I’ve personally taken the above four things and expanded it into a one-page profile. I have four main sections:

  1. Basic Census Information

Role, Full Name, Age (DOB), Occupation (Salary), Prominent Family Members.

  • Physical Details

Physical Characteristics (Skin, body type, hair, eyes, clothing, identifying feature), Personality Traits (positive, negative, “fatal flaw”), One Word Description

  • Internal Conflict

Cares Most About, Main Want, Past Ghost, Biggest Secret, Biggest Fear

  • Other Notes

The point is so I know how to exploit my characters and put them in situations they hate, but I also have a sensible place to write down what I want to remember about them.

Feel free to take these as you wish.

What does that mean for you?

It means you can take my advice, or you are free to ignore it. I’m fine either way.

It means that everyone has a different way to get to know their characters, and everyone records the information differently. Some of you will click with this method, others won’t. Some will adapt it to fit their own outlining methods.

Characters are tricky concepts, readers expect the major ones to change over the course of thee story, which means you can’t just create a rigid character. There needs to be some form of flexibility for your character to grow or regress.

Plots are the means of showing a character change over a series of events, after all.

Take the time to think about who your characters are, what you need to know and remember about them, and if you can create a template to remember all this information for every character.

Creating a profile template now will save you pain later, I can promise you that.

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