Writing a character profile must come before writing a novel! The profile is separate from the novel itself. These tips for developing characters in fiction will help you write about protagonists and antagonists that readers (and editors, and publishers) love.
Before the tips, a quip:
“Plot springs from character… I’ve always sort of believed that these people inside me – these characters – know who they are and what they’re about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don’t type.” ~ Anne Lamott.
Like Anne said, your characters cannot write their own stories. They need you to write it. But, before you write your novel, your characters need you to get to know them on a deeper level. Writing a character profile enables you to establish a relationship with your characters. A detailed character profile is the building block of character development in a novel.
For more tips on writing profiles, read Character Profile for Fiction Writing: How to Make Your Characters Come to Life!.
Here are five things to include when writing your character profile.
5 Tips for Writing a Character Profile
Most writers say, “I already know all about my characters, so is it really necessary to create a character profile before I begin writing my novel?” There is no right or wrong answer to this question.
But, writing a character profile doesn’t just help you learn about your characters. It can motivate you to write your novel all the way to the end.
Here’s how I write my character profiles…
Develop a List of Your Characters’ Characteristics
The first thing you must do is decide how many characters you intend to have in your story. Most importantly, you must determine who will be your main character(s) and who will be your secondary characters.
Sit down with a pen and a note pad and list your characters in order, from most important to least important. You will need to keep at least five vertical spaces between each character name because you will need the space to describe each character. Vertical spaces are the spaces you leave between written sentences ascending the left hand side of the page. Underneath each character name, briefly describe his or her age, ethnicity, physical appearance, personality, socioeconomic status, date of birth and current place of residence.
Here is an example of a character list.
Emmanuel d’ LeVasque:
- 23- year-old Frenchman.
- 5’10”, lean, shoulder-length hair: black, thick, wavy, brown eyes, olive-toned skin.
- Deep thinker, sensitive, respectful, sympathetic, humble.
- Son of a nobleman. Father was the King’s military advisor.
- Born in the Lyonnais countryside, October 15th, 1769.
The first step for writing a character profile is creating a brief summary. Then, you dive deeper into your fictional friends by mapping their family history.
Family and Friend Mapping
Your characters need to have some family members, one or a few good friends, and/or a lover. When you write a character profile, create a list of everyone who your main character is connected to. You can create a map – one that reads like a family tree – or simply create a list explaining who is connected to who.
Here is an example:
- Emmanuel d ‘LeVasque–Emile, Elle, Jean-Philippe Dupre, Samuel La Font (friends)
- Emmanuel–Lisabetta (lover)
- Emmanuel-Julienne (mother)
- Richard, Jeannette, Adele (siblings)
Create Your Character’s Style of Clothing
Clothing says a lot about a character’s personality. It also says a lot about a character’s socioeconomic status. To write this part of your character profile, you can either have your character describe what she likes to wear in an interview, or you can simply write down the style of clothing she adheres to.
Interview Your Characters (a great way to write a character profile!)
Now that you have established all the basic elements that make your characters unique from each other, it is time to get to know them a little better. You can conduct an interview with each one in which you ask them certain questions, or have them talk about themselves while you sit back and listen to them. Interviews are also a great way of getting to know how your characters feel about each other and how they interact with one another. When you’re writing a novel, you need to know as much as possible about your characters.
Discover the Back Story of Your Novel
The back story is an important method for learning why your character is the way he is. It is the story behind the story, and it allows for relationship growth between character and author. In your character profile, you can make the back story as long as you want. There are no limitations. Often the back story provides for an excellent scene in a novel. While you won’t need to use all information in your novel, you can highlight the most life-changing events in your main character’s life.
You can also create a back story for every important secondary character, but you don’t necessarily need to write them into your novel unless it’s crucial to the development of those characters.
You do not have to write your character profile in this format. You can do it in any format you wish. You can even write your character profile long hand – that is what I did! Regardless of how you compose your character profile, writing one will help you to get to know your characters better…which will help you write a better novel.
What do you think of these tips for writing a character profile? Comments welcome below!
To learn more about character development in fiction, read 101 Character Profiles: A Writer’s Reference by Harold Burks.
Deanna Proach is a novelist. Her first novel, ‘Day of Revenge’–a historical suspense set in revolutionary France–was released by Inkwater Press. She currently resides in Sechelt, British Columbia where she is acting and writing her second novel, ‘To be Maria’.
Deanna also wrote Writing Historical Fiction? How to Write a Book Set in the Past, here on Quips and Tips for Successful Writers.
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