If you are the kind of writer who plans extensively, you have probably dabbled with character profiles at some point. For those of you who aren't familiar, a character profile helps you to sketch out your characters either before you write or while you are writing. Drafting out character profiles is a great way to get to know your characters, their backstories, what makes them tick, their idiosyncrasies, etc.
I haven't used character profiles with any consistency in the past, but wanted to take a crack at them with my newest writing project. As I've mentioned before, I didn't plan my last writing project nearly enough and, when it came time to start writing, I found myself floundering. So, this time around, I've started building character profiles for my core cast of characters. It is definitely an interesting exercise and forces me to examine those characters, to make sure that they aren't flat or clichéd. In looking at a summary of a character, their unique traits, their history, etc., you can more easily identify and correct any issues.
However, I could see where this level of planning could also be counterproductive. Planning of any kind should always be a tool; it should make it easier for you to write, not stop you from writing all together. I've found that having to make big decisions about plotting or characterization while writing destroys my momentum. Yet, the planning shouldn't destroy your desire to write or smother the spark of your story. It should leave you excited to get started.
Personally, I want to know a few different pieces of information about a character:
- The basics: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc.
- What drives them? Is it a desire for recognition, money to pay off gambling debt, or maybe the desire for retribution?
- How is this character vulnerable? What are some of their fears?
- What is their best character trait and their worst?
- How does this character break stereotype?
Of course, there is more you can add to your character profile. You can outline some of their personality quirks and habits, the little details that make characters feel more real. I'm still working on my character profiles, but I want to try to balance the level of detail that I have. I want to spend more time figuring out the complexities and inner conflicts of my characters and less time thinking about what their favorite ice cream might be.
The questions listed above speak to what makes characters tick. Knowing what drives a character or what they are afraid of can help you to develop conflicts that place characters in a moral gray area or force them to confront their biggest fears. Outlining characters beforehand can help you to build your story in such a way that the plot is tailored to build tension and conflict that is character driven.
I'm still playing with my pre-writing process, trying to figure out what level of detail works for me. Every writer is different and the level of planning that works for me may feel stifling for you. However, if you have never tried any kind of profiling before, I encourage you to take a crack at it and see where your characters could be made more complex or compelling.